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Cite as: (2009) 83(03) LIJ, p.8


Disclaimer unworthy of a Government publication

The Land Victoria Customer Information Bulletin is issued as a Victorian government initiative which states that it is “Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne”.

The bulletin is a factual sheet publishing changes in the policy and practice which the Department of Sustainability and Environment has in place for its Land Registration Services, Land Victoria.

It is a valuable guide which is relied on by all who deal with Land Victoria. No doubt because of its importance the bulletin is prepared or at least checked by those at the highest level in Land Victoria before it is published as “Authorised by the Victorian Government, Melbourne”.

But what can be the explanation for applying the disclaimer which appears near the lower right corner of the front of the publication? The disclaimer is “ . . . the State of Victoria and its employees . . . disclaim(s) all liability . . . which may arise from you relying on any information in this publication”.

Why is it that our government which our taxes support and its highly paid employees whose salaries Victorians pay should seek protection from claims for losses which we or any of our clients may suffer as a result of error or other misleading statement published in the information bulletin?

We and our LIV should be insisting that we and our clients should have redress if we or they suffer loss as a result of error and misstatement in an official publication.

Our government should not seek to protect itself by the disclaimer included in the information bulletin from claims for losses which its citizens may suffer as a result of its errors or misstatements.

Geoff Dawson
FRE Dawson & Son

For providing the letter of the month, Geoff Dawson has won a $50 book voucher from the LIV bookshop, redeemable for the next 12 months.

Victorian courts in urgent need of support

The Productivity Commission has recently released its annual Report on Government Services 2009 [www.pc.gov.au/gsp/reports/rogs/2009]. This comprehensive report has confirmed that the Victorian court system remains one of the slowest in Australia.

Victoria’s criminal courts waiting lists include the biggest backlogs in Australia for Supreme Court appeals, County Court non-appeal cases and Children’s Court cases, as well as the percentage of Supreme Court non-appeal cases waiting more than 12 months.

Almost all waiting lists have dramatically worsened since 2003, while over the same time period most NSW waiting lists have improved. To take just a few examples, the report shows that for criminal cases as at 30 June 2008 there were 489 Supreme Court appeal cases waiting to be heard in Victoria – the highest number in Australia – compared with 432 cases last year and 337 cases in June 2003. Over the same period, the backlog of appeals in NSW fell from 242 to 210.

There were also 2341 County Court non-appeal cases waiting to be heard, again the highest number in Australia and up from 1722 in 2003. Of these, 641 cases or 27.4 per cent had been waiting for more than 12 months, compared with 17.2 per cent waiting more than 12 months in 2003. In contrast, only 145 cases or 8.3 per cent of comparable cases were waiting more than 12 months in NSW.

Of course, behind every one of these statistics are victims, witnesses, accused persons and their families waiting for years for their cases to be heard, with all the associated trauma and distress, and the passage of time taking its toll on recollections and other evidence.

The maxim that justice delayed is justice denied remains as true today as it ever was. Attorney-General Rob Hulls talks a lot about justice, but when it comes to actually delivering practical justice in the real world he is failing badly.

Instead of giving Victoria’s courts the proper administrative support and modern systems and facilities they need, the Attorney-General has overseen massive cost blowouts and delays in programs such as the Criminal Justice Enhancement Program (CJEP).

The lack of proper support for Victoria’s courts means judges are often being moved from one problem area to another, with any improvements coming at the cost of deteriorations somewhere else.

We have seen tens of millions of dollars spent by government departments and agencies on legal advice on how to comply with a complex and convoluted Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities, when that money could have been used to pay for additional and more experienced prosecutors and defence counsel, and to upgrade court administration.

Victoria needs our Attorney-General to do the hard work of actually running his portfolio and making sure Victoria’s courts are given the support they need so victims, their families, witnesses, accused persons and all other litigants can have their cases heard without unreasonable delay.

Robert Clark MP
Victorian Shadow Attorney-General

Charter enables much-needed community discussion

The Sunday Herald Sun (SHS) has commenced a campaign criticising the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities (e.g. see “Criminals’ picnic”, 18 January 2009, page 4 and “Lawyers cash in”, 7 December 2008, page 20). The gist of the criticism is that the Charter almost solely benefits those convicted or charged with a serious offence and also that it wastes court time and public money by adding to the arsenal available to defence counsel, and is therefore of little practical use to the law-abiding community at large.

It is my opinion that the SHS has misrepresented the Charter. There are a number of reasons for this. First, the most prominent use of the Charter will inevitably be by those who are arguably enduring the most significant breach in human rights. Hence, those who were charged under the new anti-terror laws and undergoing an arduous daily routine in austere conditions while trying to defend themselves, and those who are being detained beyond the expiration of their sentence are, in my view, correctly so, likely candidates for use of the Charter.

The second issue is that the view of the SHS is myopic as it depicts the Charter only as affecting the courts. It does not account for the need for all new legislation and public organisations to be compatible with the Charter. These changes would be legion. However, they would also be far less visible and harder to articulate at this early stage, and therefore less likely to pique the interest of many media sources.

Finally, it is my view that there is a need to engage in a discourse of human rights to appropriately and effectively use the Charter.

Until the general community engages in this discourse, understanding and using human rights to interpret public and private actions and events, the legislation will be less accessible and perceived to be ineffective by the general community.

Dave Taylor
Community Development Worker
Springvale Monash Legal Service Inc

Correction

The letter “Government’s homelessness response a good first step”, which appeared in the Jan/Feb 2009 LIJ, page 8, was wrongly attributed. It was written by PILCH Homeless Persons’ Legal Clinic manager/principal lawyer Caroline Adler. The LIJ apologises for the error.

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