Aim: To assess whether the application of an alternative court model with fixed teams of lawyers operating on a rolling basis in the NSW District Criminal Court resulted in greater efficiency in the resolution of indictable criminal matters relative to the regular operation of the NSW District Court, and to identify the successful elements and mechanisms of the Rolling List Court (RLC) model.
Method: A randomised controlled trial was conducted in the NSW District Criminal Court (NSW DCC), where eligible matters were balloted with 50:50 odds to the RLC or the general list of the NSW DCC. The proportion of early guilty pleas relative to late guilty pleas, trials reaching a verdict and no-bills were compared between the courts, and survival analysis was used to analyse the time taken to reach a guilty plea and to finalise matters in both courts. Stakeholder interviews were conducted to identify the key mechanisms behind the RLC, as well as any other benefits or drawbacks of the model.
Results: More than half (58.0 %) of the matters balloted to the RLC resolved in a guilty plea before the trial date, compared to 22.0 per cent of the matters randomised to the general list of the NSW DCC. There were marked improvements in the average time taken to reach a guilty plea (t=-3.43; p-value<.001), to list matters for trial (t=-5.14; p-value<.001) and to finalise matters (t=-3.93; p-value<.001) in the RLC. Further evidence of faster resolution in the RLC was found through survival analyses of the time taken to reach a guilty plea (HR=1.73; 95% CI (1.08, 2.78); p-value=.023) and to finalise matters (HR=1.90; 95% CI (1.29, 2.79); p-value=.001). Stakeholders interviewed indicated that early briefing and negotiation was crucial to obtaining earlier guilty pleas, and further benefits to efficiency arose from the fixed-team composition of the court.
Conclusion: The RLC proved effective at obtaining early guilty pleas and reducing delay in the processing of indictable criminal matters. The findings suggest that efforts to introduce some elements of the RLC, such as early briefing of practitioners and pre-trial negotiations, could have benefits for the NSW DCC’s efficiency.