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Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Magistrates' and County Court decisions now available on AustLII

AustLII have been publishing the decisions of District Courts (the equivalent of our County Court) from other states for some time.

They had been on record as saying they weren't interested in publishing the decisions of the summary jurisdiction. But last year the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner made a substantial grant to AustLII, and they wanted written Magistrates' Court decisions on-line.

The Victoria Model Jurisdiction project was launched. Some County Court judgements going back to 1993 and some Magistrates' Court decisions going back to 2006 are now available.

(While it's sometimes said that the Magistrates' Court and County Court are not courts of record, that's not the case. Both meet the requirements of a court of record.)

Since most of their decisions are delivered ex tempore (not with written reasons) you won't be able to find every judicial decision. And, of course, where the verdict was from a jury trial, you won't find reasons at all (though, in future, you might find sentencing remarks).

Only where the magistrate or judge files written reasons will they be uploaded to AustLII, and they're under no obligation to do so. So, in a way, it's as if individual judicial officers are deciding whether to "report" their decision in a particular case.

Unfortunately, it's not comprehensive. Even where a notorious written decision was given, there's no guarantee it'll be there. The database for the County Court looks like a straight lift from the County Court website, which was far from complete. So, for example, if you're looking for the precursor to DPP v Mastwyk, Salton v Wigg (27/2/98) Victorian County Court (Kimm J, Unreported), among the County Court cases, you won't find it.

More databases are expected soon. Like earlier AustLII efforts, it's likely that the fruits of their labour will only be realised down the track.

1 comment:

Jeremy Gans said...

Yes, it dose just seem to be a straight lift from the extremely patchy County Court website. In other words, it's almost all accident compensation cases.

If you look at just about every other intermediate court in Australia (e.g. South Australia's District Court judgments on Austlii), you'll see a much more comprehensive list of cases (which would, if posted here, make a very valuable contribution to Victorian law.) Which raises the question: why is uploading a matter of individual choice amongst judges? If a judgment isn't suppressed, then it should be online. What century are we in?

As an example, I've just obtained (what I gather is) a cleared-for-release judgment of the County Court from August, which in substance (but not in form, because only the Supreme Court can do that) making Victoria's first declaration of incompatibility under the Charter (in relation to the Serious Sex Offenders Monitoring Act.) But there's no publicity because the judgment isn't online. It's ridiculous.