A Coast pensioner has been refused bail after being charged with drug trafficking.
A Coast pensioner has been refused bail after being charged with drug trafficking. Rockhampton Morning Bulletin

New judges promised to cut NSW court backlog

THE choking NSW District Court has been thrown a $20 million lifeline to slash more than 600 criminal trials from its growing backlog over the next two years.

The accumulation of criminal cases more than a year old has almost doubled since 2011, reaching a peak of 2055 in September.

It took an average 358 days for criminal matters to be finalised in 2014 where the accused was on bail - up 28% on 2007.

NSW Acting Auditor-General Tony Whitfield last month said the backlog was costing taxpayers $60 million a year to keep prisoners on remand.

It was also contributing to the state's overcrowded prison system, which was 12% over capacity in 2014-15 and getting worse.

Now Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton has announced an immediate relief package including extra sitting weeks, new judges and more public defenders.

"Delays put victims through undue stress, make it harder for witnesses to recall key details and strain the resources of the justice system," she said.

"This is going to make a real difference to our justice system and more importantly to people's lives."

Regional areas and Western Sydney will receive extra District Court criminal sitting weeks through to June next year.

Targeted trial call-over courts will be set up to identify matters that can quickly be resolved with an early guilty plea, while pre-trial conferencing for trials set to last longer than 20 days will ensure earlier resolutions, Ms Upton said.

It is unclear how many extra judges and new public defenders will be appointed, and whether they will be permanently funded.

"The package will alleviate the pressure in the District Court in the short term, allowing the NSW Government to work with key stakeholders on systemic reform," Ms Upton said.