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From the CEO: A vision for the future

Every Issue

Cite as: (2004) 78(7) LIJ, p. 6

The Law Institute welcomes the Attorney-General’s Justice Statement which aims to develop an overall vision for the administration of justice in Victoria for the next decade.

State Attorney-General Rob Hulls released on 27 May his Justice Statement, a broad-based document setting the agenda for the future of justice in the state.

Clearly, the challenge for the legal profession and others working within the justice system is to ensure that we achieve the best possible outcome. The Law Institute looks forward to working closely with the Attorney-General and Justice Department to ensure that the vision for justice in this state is realised.

Contained in the statement are some significant initiatives, with probably the most significant but challenging initiative announced being the establishment of a process of discussion and consultation with the Victorian community on how human rights and obligations can best be promoted and protected in the state.

The suggestion is that there ought to be consideration given to a charter of human rights and responsibilities. This is a matter that the Institute has for some years promoted. The challenge for the government in this area will be to move decisively to establish the charter and implement it. The preparation and implementation of a true human rights charter for Victoria will be widely supported by the legal profession and the broader community.

There are several initiatives in the Justice Statement that the Institute would urge the Attorney-General to give priority to. These would include clarifying the roles of the Courts and jurisdictions, exploring the possibility of defendants knowing the likely penalty in the event they plead guilty, streamlining the criminal justice system and removing 17-year-olds from the adult court system.

The Justice Statement confirms the increase in the jurisdiction of the Magistrates’ Court from $40,000 to $100,000, likely to be effective from 1 January 2005. This was the first announcement in the lead-up to the re-election of the government. The flow-on effect to the County Court is still unclear.

There is an indication that the County Court’s jurisdiction will increase but the precise amount is still to be determined. The Attorney-General should move quickly to conclude his review into the increase in the jurisdiction of the County Court so that there is no uncertainty. The interaction and overlap between the jurisdictions of the County Court, Magistrates’ Court and Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal also needs to be clarified.

In the Justice Statement, the Attorney-General indicates that he wants to explore the option of giving defendants the opportunity to know the likely penalty that they will receive in the event that they plead guilty as well as offering appropriate discounts for a plea of guilty. These initiatives can only assist defendants and their advisers in making informed decisions about the conduct of their defence. Defendants will be placed in a situation of knowing in broad terms the likely penalty before making their plea. This will work to the advantage of defendants and also the administration of justice as it will be cost-effective and efficient.

Other initiatives announced in the criminal law area, including further rationalisation of criminal trial procedures, implementation of the sentencing review and review of the infringement process, will also assist in streamlining the criminal justice system.

The removal from the adult court system of 17-year-olds is long overdue. The Institute’s Criminal Law Section has for a long time urged the Attorney-General to raise the age limit for the Children’s Court and ensure that 17-year-olds do not end up in adult prisons with all the undesirable consequences that arise from this.

Other initiatives include rewrites and reviews of the Crimes Act, Evidence Act and Bail Act. All these Acts have had considerable amendment over the past decade. The review process will clarify and simplify these Acts, which can only have a positive impact.

The Gateways to Justice Project that aims to provide an integrated approach to dispute resolution policy and services has been announced but little detail has been provided. Governments for some time have talked about the importance of alternate dispute resolution (ADR). Generally, one of the main barriers to success of such programs has been inadequate funding. Hopefully, the Gateways to Justice Project will be sufficiently funded to ensure that there is a clear and genuine attempt to implement a strategic approach to ADR.

The overhaul of the civil rules of procedure streamlining litigation process and a single registry for all courts are initiatives that are long overdue.

The Attorney-General is to be congratulated for this initiative so far. The real challenge is the implementation of the key initiatives and the Institute looks forward to working with the Attorney-General and Department of Justice in achieving this.

John Cain

ceo@liv.asn.au

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