A SURGE in criminal cases in Warrnambool is creating a huge court backlog and extensive delays, forcing the County Court to consider additional circuits.
Two high-profile cases have already been moved to Geelong County Court — the first an expected plea hearing on March 27 and the second an alleged sex offence case scheduled to be heard on May 6.
Next month a retrial is due to be heard in the four-week sitting of the Warrnambool County Court. However, it has been estimated that trial could take at least six weeks to complete.
With almost no chance of the trial being resolved to a shorter plea hearing, there are also an additional eight plea hearings and 16 appeals listed for the same sitting.
It is expected those cases will to have to be adjourned to the next criminal sitting of the Warrnambool County Court, which is scheduled to start on July 29 and already includes the listing of three trials, two pleas and four appeals.
Added to the queue is the case of former Warrnambool city councillor Jennifer Lowe and her husband Robbie, who were this week committed to stand trial in the County Court on about 600 charges.
That case is listed for a directions hearing in Geelong on May 24 before it is expected to return to Warrnambool for hearing.
It is understood the possibility of holding more crime circuits in Warrnambool is being considered by the County Court of Victoria to relieve the backlog.
A County Court spokeswoman said the caseload in Warrnambool had been noted.
“The County Court is aware of increased demands at Warrnambool and is looking at measures to address this. Each year, there are more than 100 circuit sittings servicing to 12 circuit court locations around Victoria,” she said.
“From time to time there is a spike in demand. There has been a recent increase in the length and complexity of cases before the Warrnambool County Court.
“The court allocates resources to ensure a fair and equitable distribution of judges across the whole of Victoria including Warrnambool. We are planning for additional demand in Warrnambool next year.”