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VLRC: The year in law reform

Every Issue

Cite as: December 2009 83(12) LIJ, p.72


The VLRC reflects on its work in 2009 and looks towards 2010.

This year has been a busy year for the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) as it completed its jury directions reference and undertook work on several other projects.

References

Jury directions

This year saw the completion of the jury directions reference. Retired Supreme Court judge, Geoff Eames QC AO, played a central role in this project as a consultant to the VLRC.

The final report, which Attorney-General Rob Hulls launched in July, contained 52 recommendations designed to improve the process of giving jury directions in a criminal trial and to reduce the possibility of error on the part of the trial judge when doing so.

The VLRC’s recommendations fall into three broad categories: new legislation that replaces the common law, new practices to assist the jury in understanding the real issues in a case, and more skills training for trial judges and counsel.

The VLRC held a symposium at the beginning of this year with members from the New Zealand, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmanian Law Reform Commissions, as well as leading academics, to consider jury directions reforms in other jurisdictions.

Surveillance in public places

Following the release of a consultation paper in March 2009, the VLRC’s surveillance team embarked on a phase of site visits, consultations and forum events.

The surveillance team consulted widely with groups and individuals who have a particular interest in public place surveillance. This process involved visiting a range of sites including Federation Square, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne City Council, the State Library of Victoria, Crown Casino and Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. The team also conducted forums with community groups, users of surveillance and privacy advocates. This process greatly assisted the VLRC’s understanding of surveillance practices in Victoria.

The consultation paper sought responses to a range of proposals for improving the regulation of public place surveillance in Victoria.

The VLRC received 45 submissions which can be viewed on its website. Work is now underway on a final report to be handed to Mr Hulls next year.

Guardianship

The Attorney-General announced a two-year long VLRC review of guardianship and administration law. This is an important opportunity to modernise the laws that assist people with impaired decision-making capacity.

Work has focused on creating consultative committees, background research and preliminary consultations. Work also began on an information paper which will explain the current law and provide a starting point for community consultations.

People interested in the project are encouraged to contact the VLRC to join the contacts list for this project.

New references

Property

In August, Mr Hulls announced the VLRC would undertake a two-stage review of Victoria’s property laws.

The first stage, which will involve an examination of the law of easements and covenants and the need to update the Property Law Act 1958, was due to begin by the end of the year. The second stage, which concerns the Transfer of Land Act 1958, should commence in late 2010.

Community law reform

Individuals and organisations with ideas for community law reform projects are encouraged to send suggestions to the VLRC. Meanwhile this year, the VLRC community law reform projects looked at assistance animals and supporting young people in police interviews.

Assistance animals

Mr Hulls launched a community law reform report in January which made a number of recommendations to provide better legal protection for people with disabilities who use assistance animals.

The Equal Opportunity Act has been amended to reflect some of those proposals and the government is still considering other recommendations.

Supporting young people in police interviews

Work has continued through the year on another community law reform project about support for young people in police interviews. A paper on the topic was released in July and the VLRC received 23 submissions in response. These submissions can be viewed on the VLRC website.

The community law reform team travelled to metropolitan, rural and regional areas to talk to police, volunteers and young people about the police interview process.

Education and outreach

VLRC staff gave talks to school groups, university classes and community groups throughout the year. A number of staff spoke at interstate and international conferences.

Staff went on the road to Horsham, Shepparton and Alexandra to talk to VCE legal studies classes about the VLRC’s work.

Early in the year the VLRC produced a classroom poster about the law reform process which was distributed free to legal studies teachers. Posters are still available by contacting the VLRC.

The VLRC has continued to participate in the Victoria Law Foundation’s intern program.

It continued to be a source of information for the media about the law reform process and specific references. Of particular interest to the media were recommendations arising from the final report of jury directions and the issue of surveillance in public places received coverage following the release of the VLRC’s consultation paper.

Other news

The VLRC’s newest commissioners, Hugh de Kretser and Magistrate Mandy Chambers, began work on their first law reform projects. The VLRC is indebted to all commissioners throughout the year for their hard work.


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

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