The Andrews Labor Government will protect vulnerable victims and ease pressure on the justice system by upgrading and expanding the video conferencing network at the Magistrates’ Court of Victoria (MCV).
The $14.7 million upgrade – including $8.1 million to be delivered in the 2015-16 Victorian Budget – will span key metropolitan and regional courts and provide additional mobile conferencing units to meet growing demand.
It is estimated the upgrade will see an immediate 300 per cent increase in the MCV’s capacity to conduct concurrent video calls.
Of the MCV 53 sites, 24 currently have some video conferencing capabilities – including six courts with obsolete technology and 17 at the end of their working life. Only one court in Victoria has up to date technology.
The major upgrade will see the network’s existing ISDN technology replaced by a TCP-IP internet based platform at 27 courts across the state, with the remaining 26 sites to benefit from mobile video conferencing facilities.
Video conferencing reduces the need for vulnerable victims, witnesses residing overseas or interstate and some prisoners to physically attend courts for hearings. It also has the potential to reduce delays to court proceedings.
For victims – particularly in cases of family violence, sexual assault and organised crime – it is regarded as the most effective way to provide testimony safely and securely without diminishing the quality of evidence.
The upgraded network will also mean more prisoner hearings can be conducted by video conferences, potentially reducing prisoner transport costs incurred by Corrections Victoria in the future.
The MCV is one of the busiest courts in Victoria, responsible for 90 per cent of people sentenced in the state.
In 2014 more than 2000 hours of video conferencing calls were made at the MCV. Within five years, it’s predicted more than 74,000 hearings could occur by video conference.
Works will commence in July, and metropolitan and regional courts will be completed by August 2016, with the full rollout to be completed in March 2017.
Quotes attributable to Attorney-General, Martin Pakula
“Video conferencing has become an important part of the justice system since it was introduced by the Magistrates’ Court nearly 20 years ago, with demand for facilities currently at capacity.”
“This major shot in the arm for our justice system will better protect vulnerable witnesses – particularly those escaping family violence – giving them the confidence they need to give crucial evidence in key hearings.”
Quotes attributable to Chief Magistrate of Victoria, Peter Lauritsen
“This major initiative will enable persons otherwise required to appear before the Court to do so remotely. It is the means by which the Court will cope with the issue of non-production of persons in custody, and will enhance the safety of parties to proceedings – especially family violence proceedings.”
Quotes attributable to Magistrates’ Court of Victoria Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Tenni
“This investment enables the Magistrates’ Court to implement modern technology state-wide that provides flexible and efficient solutions to the most complex issues being experienced by Victoria’s justice system, improving services afforded to those that come in contact with the Court.”