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VLRC: Moving in the right direction


Every Issue

Cite as: (2009) 83(04) LIJ, p.82

Australasian law reform commissions have pooled ideas on the best ways of dealing with jury directions.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) has hosted a symposium as part of the consultation process for its reference on jury directions.

In addition to the eastern states, members of law reform commissions in Tasmania and New Zealand attended the two-day event, along with members of the judiciary and leading academic researchers.

Three Australian law reform commissions – Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland – currently have references dealing with jury directions.

VLRC chair Professor Neil Rees said while each jurisdiction had different terms of reference, the symposium was an invaluable opportunity to exchange research and reform proposals.

He said the principles guiding reform of jury directions were shared across jurisdictions and included simplicity, certainty, clarity and ease of comprehension. At the heart of any reform should also be the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal against conviction.

Professor Rees said the VLRC had undertaken extensive consultation in Victoria and it was also important to learn from the experience of other jurisdictions.

A consultation paper was released in September last year and a summary of this, titled “Jury directions: a closer look,” was released in December.

This summary refines the VLRC’s original proposals to six points:

  • most directions to be discretionary;
  • content of some directions to be codified;
  • Alford v Magee should be restated in the legislation;
  • counsel should assist in identification of issues prior to trial;
  • right of appeal restricted where point not taken below; and
  • the rule in Pemble’s case be confined to its original scope.

A set of questions relating to these proposals was devised to assist those making a submission to the VLRC and is included in the summary, which can be found on VLRC’s website.

Professor Rees said the level of interest and participation in the reference by the legal community had been high and he was grateful to everyone who had attended a consultation session or made a submission.

He said it was an important reference that has the potential to significantly change criminal trials in Victoria and to ensure that fewer cases proceed to an appeal on the basis of judicial directions.

The VLRC has received 17 submissions, including contributions from Victoria Legal Aid, the Criminal Bar Association, the Judicial College of Victoria, the Law Council of Australia and the Office of Public Prosecutions.

For the first time submissions to the VLRC are available to download at http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au

The VLRC is in the final stages of completing the final report which is due to the Attorney-General by 1 June.


Contributed by the VICTORIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION. For further information, ph 8619 8619 or visit the website http://www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.

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