Bendigo County Court cases delayed

Some County Court cases in Bendigo are facing lengthy waits because of precedence given to sex matters and a lack of court facilities.

At a directions hearing in Bendigo this week two criminal cases were adjourned to October, 2013.

They included the case of Jeffrey Westcott, a 51-year-old Bendigo man accused of assaulting a schoolboy at the start of this year.

The trial delays mean the case will take close to two years – at the least – to be resolved.

A spokesperson from the County Court said October was the first trial date available in Bendigo.

“These matters do not involve sexual offence allegations. Precedence is given to sexual offence trials pursuant to the legislative mandate,” the statement read.

“In regional court locations such as Bendigo, this legislative imperative sometimes means that all non-sexual offence matters are subject to delay.

“Unfortunately, the facilities at Bendigo Court do not allow for more than one criminal sitting at a time. 

“This negatively impacts upon what the court can achieve on circuit because we cannot implement double circuits - a strategy that has proved very beneficial in other regional locations such as the Latrobe Valley.”

Delays are nothing new for the County Court in Bendigo.

In May, Bendigo woman Suzanne Harvey was given two years’ jail for stealing money from her employer in 2008.

Throughout the trial witnesses found it hard to recall details of events which had happened nearly four years ago.

Last month a Korong Vale couple were convicted of charges stemming from a violent affray in 2007. Jessica Markidis, 26, and Kristopher Coppin, 32, received a 15-month community corrections order and $1200 fine respectively.

Presiding County Court judge Jane Patrick said the lengthy delay in the matters coming to court was a mitigating factor in sentencing.

Bendigo Law Association president Luke Docherty said delays at the County Court in Bendigo had been getting better in the last 12 months thanks to the introduction of extra sittings held in Melbourne, and special attention from judges. 

But Mr Docherty said any delay was bad. “It leaves everyone living in suspense, no one knows what’s going to happen,” he said.

“You can’t plan too much in the future if you have a a potential jail term hanging over your head.”

Mr  Docherty said delays affected the accused, victims and witnesses.