Chief Judge laments chance lost with scrapping of $18m system

A failed IT project to modernise the courts has crippled reforms that were meant to take advantage of the system, the Chief District Court Judge has said.

Chief Judge Jan-Marie Doogue told a seminar for lawyers that problems with the new Criminal Procedures Act resulted from the scrapping of the eBench project, which was intended to cut the paperwork judges had to deal with.

"Unfortunately, the electronic technology has not been forthcoming," she said in a speech yesterday.

It is controversial territory for the chief judge after the cancellation of the $18 million project following six years of work.


The third stage and discarded phase was intended as the centrepin of the court digitisation project and judges were to use it to access files in court and record decisions as they made them.

It was intended to speed up the court process, with the Criminal Procedures Act, which cut down on classes of offences and reduced the number of jury trials.

Chief Judge Doogue said the structure of the act was "designed on the premise of there being an electronic court system".

"Without that electronic system, much of the underlying infrastructure doesn't quite work."

She said the work intended to be done on computers was more difficult and time consuming when done by hand.

"I suspect that many of the current difficulties with the infrastructure can be traced back to this."

Chief Judge Doogue said it was even more apparent with charges and defendants being brought together, as well as the adding and withdrawing of charges.

"These can be categorised as functionality problems rather than human problems."


Beyond the eBench failure, she said, there were "many positives" with the act, but "if we don't all change soon, then we will never change, and the system will not work as it was designed to".