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VLRC: a year in review

Every Issue

Cite as: (2008) 82(12) LIJ, p.81

Recently the Attorney-General released Justice Statement 2 – a document that outlines the Victorian government’s priorities for the justice portfolio – in which he said the government would address the VLRC’s [civil justice] recommendations.

Over the past 12 months the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) has sought to achieve its goal of being an inclusive, innovative and independent law reform agency that produces work of the highest quality.

The VLRC delivered three final reports to Attorney-General Rob Hulls during this reporting period, all of which concerned difficult and important topics. They were: civil justice, abortion and assistance animals.

Civil justice

The civil justice reference began in September 2006 under the guidance of full-time commissioner Dr Peter Cashman.

Attorney-General Rob Hulls asked the VLRC to provide him with broad-ranging advice about reform of the civil justice system in Victoria. Because of the size of that task, the submission date for the final report was extended from September 2007 until March 2008.

The VLRC’s final report, tabled in May, contained 177 recommendations designed to improve the operations of the civil justice system. The report has generated a significant amount of public debate, especially among the legal profession.

Recently the Attorney-General released the Justice Statement 2 – a document that outlines the Victorian government’s priorities for the justice portfolio – in which he said the government would address the VLRC’s recommendations [See “Changing the face of justice” on page 18 of this edition of the LIJ for more information on Justice Statement 2.]

Abortion

In late September 2007, the Attorney-General asked the VLRC to provide advice about options for reforming the law of abortion. The final report was delivered to the Attorney-General in March 2008 and tabled in Parliament some weeks later.

The reference attracted a considerable amount of public interest. The VLRC received more than 500 submissions and held more than 30 consultations with people interested in abortion law reform.

The report provided three models for the decriminalisation of abortion and in September a Bill was introduced in Parliament that reflected Model B in the VLRC’s report. All parties allowed members of Parliament to make a conscience vote and in October the Bill was passed by both houses.

Assistance animals

A final report on assistance animals was delivered to the Attorney-General recently and will be tabled in Parliament in the coming months. The report was a project under the community law reform area of the VLRC whereby members of the public or groups can suggest an area of the law that requires reform. The report makes recommendations that are designed to ensure people with disabilities who use assistance animals are afforded their rights.

As well as the final reports there was a consultation paper on jury directions and a reference on surveillance in public places.

Jury directions

In January 2008, Mr Hulls asked the VLRC for advice about reform of the law that governs the directions and warnings a judge is required to give to a jury in a criminal trial. Retired Court of Appeal Justice Geoff Eames QC, who has published a number of papers about jury directions, is a consultant to the reference. 

The VLRC has established a consultative committee comprised of leading practitioners and members of the judiciary to assist with the task of developing reform proposals. Both the Queensland Law Reform and the New South Wales Law Reform Commissions are also undertaking reviews of jury directions.

A consultation paper was published in September 2008 and the consultation process is currently underway. The final report is due in mid-2009.

Surveillance in public places

The second phase of the VLRC’s privacy reference, which concerns surveillance in public places, is well underway. The VLRC has been asked to consider whether the law needs to balance the interests of users of surveillance with privacy concerns. The VLRC has conducted extensive consultation with individuals and organisations interested in the issue.

A consultation paper, scheduled for publication in early 2009, will describe the issues and seek submissions from the public. The release of the paper has been delayed because of the need to include consideration of the recommendations made by the Australian Law Reform Commission in its comprehensive privacy report.

Commissioners

The VLRC is fortunate to have experienced part-time commissioners who contribute a great deal of time and energy to the work of the VLRC.

Judge Jennifer Coate, a member of the VLRC since its inception in 2001, resigned in April 2008 because of the demands of her new office of state coroner.

After leading the civil justice review on a full-time basis, Dr Peter Cashman returned to an academic position in NSW.

In September, the Attorney-General announced the appointment of Federation of Community Legal Centres executive director Hugh de Kretser to the VLRC as a part-time commissioner.

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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