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Backlog threatens to swamp court system


A MASSIVE backlog of criminal cases in the state's busiest jurisdiction threatens to overwhelm the system and its hardworking staff, a straight-talking Magistrate has warned.

Magistrate Suzette Coates, who was presiding in the arrest court in Brisbane yesterday, estimated the backlog in outstanding warrants for offenders to appear in the Magistrate's court "must be about 50,000".

Police prosecutor acting sergeant Hayley Kipps told Magistrate Coates there were 140 cases scheduled for callover in court 1 at the Brisbane arrests court today (Tuesday), a figure perhaps double the usual number.

"That's just unmanageable isn't it really, 140," Magistrate Coates said.

Commenting before she was informed of the announcement of the lockdown lift yesterday Magistrate Coates said in court that she dreaded the deluge of cases to come once courts were fully operable and the uncertainty was concerning.

There were 140 cases scheduled for callover in court 1 at the Brisbane arrests court today.
There were 140 cases scheduled for callover in court 1 at the Brisbane arrests court today.

Thousands of cases in the Magistrates Court - which hears less serious criminal cases - have been adjourned during the pandemic.

"Well I don't know when we are ever going to go back to proper work, and it is going to be hideous when we do isn't it really?" she said in court.

"It's just going to be vile, beyond vile, we are going to have to be working so hard, the numbers circling in the great outer space, it's just going be hideous.

"I'm not looking forward to it, it is a hard enough jurisdiction this court down here anyhow with the numbers that we get."

Magistrate Coates, who has been in the job for 15 years, said the backlog was made worse by the pandemic health regulations, which necessarily allowed offenders to excuse themselves from attending court if they had COVID-19 symptoms.

Brisbane Magistrates Court building.
Brisbane Magistrates Court building.

"Well of course it is the ultimate excuse not to do anything isn't it really?"

"If you don't feel like coming you just ring up and say you have covid symptoms. I mean we've only have something like 20 diagnosed cases but... and there is nothing we can do about that other than adjourn it," she said.

"This is going to be a real scrum this court this week" Magistrate Coates said at another point during yesterday's callover.

Magistrate Coates was a solicitor for 29 years before she was appointed a Magistrate in 2006. She worked with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander's Legal Service in Sydney, Brisbane and Cairns and with Legal Aid Queensland.

Originally published as Backlog threatens to swamp court system