In the Australian legal justice system, with the increasing demand to expand summary jurisdiction, there has been a controversial issue as to which process is more appropriate to deliver justice to public as well as litigants; efficiency process or due process. While the former focuses on informality and efficiency, which requires judicial officers to struggle to manage limited time created by long case lists, the latter emphasizes formality and due process, which is commonly seen on higher courts. Grounded on the characteristics of respective courts mentioned above, this observation at the New South Wales Local Court and Supreme Court during three days aimed at comparing one proceeding with the other.
2. Local Court: Efficiency
In the courtroom for sentencing at the Downing Centre Local Court, It was a wide range of cases dealt with by the Magistrate that were the most impressive and surprising. The Magistrate sat on the top seat without juries and decided all questions of laws and facts. The Magistrate, even though so busy, treated a large number of documents given by clerks calmly as if finishing such many cases in a day, consisting of mainly minor crimes, was natural. At a glance, it was definite that the Magistrate worked in pursuit of efficiency, which includes speed and finality. In accordance with Doreen McBarnet, due process has been excluded from the lower courts because the process is not necessary, grounded on the two facts – “first, the offences and the penalties are too trivial” and “second, the issues and processes are such that the niceties of law and lawyers are irrelevant”. Surprisingly, as reflecting his argument, it took each defendant, at most, five minutes to be sentenced. In fact, most cases were decided within 30 seconds, especially in case the Magistrate determined adjournment. Only two cases were protracted for 10 minutes. It was even suspected, when the vast majority of criminal matters handled by the Magistrate at a time were observed, whether or not the proceedings at the Local Court are truly contributing to protecting the accused from injustice. Because the Magistrate looked likely to make a mistake ultimately influencing the decision on the accused under the time pressure. At the same court on another day, there was a hearing associated with the accused convicted of fraud, whose case proceeded for an entire day, from 10:00 to 16:00. What caught people’s attention to the case was the way of representation for the accused since the person who represented the accused was the accused himself. The more interesting thing was that the accused was not so skilled at expressing himself that there frequently appeared to come out deliveries with ambiguous meanings by him. In response to them, the Magistrate, at times, sighed deeply and strived to intervene in order to deliver a clear meaning as quickly as he can by requesting the accused to repeat what he said right before or summing up his speech. Moreover, the Magistrate asked a clerk to bring other defendants waiting for sentencing outside into the courtroom whenever there is a break. The intervening hearings were also finished within a few minutes. When one of the witnesses, who could not speak in English but only Arab, was called for to the witness box, there was no one who could interpret Arab. As a consequence of that, the trial was held for a minute to allow the clerk to go out and seek for someone being able to help the hearing to continue. However, she failed to find anyone and the interrogation to the witness could not help being postponed to another day. In respect of the happening, It is no doubt that this sort of soft spot at lower courts is pointed out as a factor to render people consider exclusively the higher courts as more thorough and reliable through a whole trial, but the magistrate’s courts as unprofessional and loose.
3. Supreme Court: Due Process