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Getting to the court on time

A REGIONAL court has become the first in WA to take advantage of the benefits of new, high-tech communications in a bid to reduce the costs associated with getting witnesses to appear in court.

At Merredin, 260km east of Perth, the Court of Petty Sessions is using the local telecentre to conduct proceedings by video-conference for remote witnesses. Instead of the court operating its own equipment, it convenes at the community information tech-nology access point.

Already, courts in Perth and some larger regional centres have their own built-in video-conferencing facilities, which the Department of Justice says has resulted in productivity improve-ments and cost savings in 1999-2000 of more than $500,000.

However, the expensive install-ation costs of video-conferencing have meant that smaller courts have had to operate using conventional methods.

Merredin clerk of courts Martin Morris said his court was the first in the State to utilise a telecentre.

“As yet, the smaller courts don’t have their own videoconferencing units, but access to the telecentre means that we can offer a comparable level of service,” he said.

“In two recent cases, the initiative has saved the department more than $11,000 in witness travel and accommodation costs.”

Mr Morris said witnesses often were summoned to appear in Merredin from outside the region, including the eastern states.

“The cost of bringing these witnesses to Merredin is expensive as it involves overnight stays in Perth to link up with rail and airline schedules and accommo-dation, transport and meal costs while in town,” he said.

By convening the Merredin court in the telecentre, remote witnesses could give their evi-dence from their home locations for the cost of facility rental and the audiovisual link, Mr Morris said.

“In one case, that cost came to just over $200,” he said.

The improved convenience for witnesses also is a great step forward. Witnesses often are required to travel great distances and, in many instances, are frustrated upon their arrival to find cases have been adjourned or settled.

Videolinks are a very powerful technology and are particularly advantageous in WA, enabling services to be delivered despite the State’s geographical size and dispersed population.

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