Supreme Court Listings - 2016
Letter to Chief Justice Trevor Riley dated 21 April 2015:
Thank you for your letter dated 16 March 2015 in relation to the Supreme Court listings for 2016.
On 14 April 2015 the Society"™s Legal Practice Committee (Committee) met and considered the matters raised in your letter. Membership of the Committee is made up from representatives of private firms, government lawyers and the Bar.
Having regard to the discussions of the Committee the Society considers that listing full civil trials between 4 and 15 January 2016 presents a number of challenges for parties, witnesses and legal representatives, many of which are outside of the influence or control of the profession and the Court. Further, the Society considers these challenges are impediments to listing civil trials in early January 2016 as proposed.
In particular, the Committee was concerned that:
- Trials commencing in early January 2016 would require parties, their legal representatives and witnesses to spend the holiday time over Christmas and New Year working extended hours intensely preparing for trial. In addition to issues of personnel availability and workplace burden, this would give rise to detrimental flow-on effects, noting that administrative support and other key services are likely to be unavailable over this period.
- The Northern Territory experiences a traditional business closure period over December and January. During this period many government agencies and non-government businesses are either not open or open on a drastically reduced capacity.
- The demographic of the Territory population and the coincidence of the 6-week school holiday period over this time means that many people are not in town. Interstate witnesses are not likely to be available to come to the Territory during this time. As such, difficulties are foreseen in the availability of witnesses to prepare for and give evidence at trials, including lay witnesses and the types of experts which are typically necessary in a civil trial (e.g. accounting, medical, construction and engineering)
- During the traditional shut-down period many child care centres are not open or open on a much reduced capacity. This will impact on the ability of parties, legal representatives and witnesses to be readily available for long periods of trial preparation and for the duration of the trial.
- In the Society"™s experience the shut-down period over Christmas in the Northern Territory is greater than other jurisdictions. This is a further indicator that many people travel long distances interstate or overseas for extended periods over this time.
- For reasons including the foregoing, most Australian courts are closed from mid to late December until the beginning of February. The Society suggests that having regard to matters particular to the Territory the Court must adopt a similar approach.
Additionally, the Society has made a commitment to enhancing diversity of the legal profession. A foundation commitment is to ensure that the practise of the law does not preclude participation of those with family or other caring commitments.
As such, the Society does not support initiatives that place further burdens on the legal profession to work during times that should be available for personal use, be that family or other recreational activity. The Society is concerned that commencing civil trials on 4 January not only places unreasonable burdens on members of the profession over an important holiday time, it reinforces notions of unsustainable workplace practices that have been identified as a key driver of depression and anxiety and also attrition in the legal profession, particularly amongst women.
To the extent that the early January listings trial is intended to proceed on the basis of the high settlement rate of civil matters in the Court, the Committee discussed and considered the alternative solution of further increasing the listing of civil trials in February and March 2016 on a priority basis. It is acknowledged that this would similarly present challenges to all Court users and staff and in some unlikely instances may see otherwise ready matters unable to proceed. However, such a solution would better manage the competing considerations, better address the Society"™s concerns with listings in early January 2016 and would remain able to cater for the possibility of civil trials settling close to trial.
We would be pleased to discuss any of the matters raised in this letter with you if you would like to.