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From the president: A legal renaissance

Every Issue

Cite as: (2004) 78(10) LIJ, p. 4

This year may be marked as a year of review in the law.

In the past few months there have been three major drivers of change for the administration of justice in this state. The first was the publication of the Justice Statement [see cover story, July LIJ 2004], the second was the Organised Crime Strategy Workshop and the third was the Courts Strategic Directions Statement [see page 22 of this edition].

Each initiative represents a realistic assessment that things need to change in particular aspects of the administration of law, each foreshadows significant change in the shorter term and each raises for discussion ideas which will provide a blueprint for change to be undertaken in the years to come.

What is also pleasing is that each has come from different parts of the system of justice in Victoria – the government, the police and the judiciary.

If these changes are implemented, Victoria will undergo a legal renaissance.

Each initiative provokes for discussion important issues that must be debated in order to move forward and transform the administration of justice in this state. It is important to examine the breadth of changes proposed by each.

The Victorian government’s Justice Statement traverses a wide variety of initiatives to modernise the justice system and safeguard the rights of those who are most vulnerable. In particular, it sets out the way in which the criminal justice system needs to be brought into the modern age, outlines a reformed system of dispute resolution which includes much earlier ADR intervention and proposes jurisdictional reform of the civil courts.

It also forecasts reform to the regulatory regime of the legal profession within the context of a move toward a national profession. There is a suggested charter of human rights and responsibilities, specific programs to address disadvantage in the criminal justice system and initiatives to further assist victims of crime. Finally, there is a statement of greater commitment to legal advice and assistance.

The Victoria Police-organised Conference on Organised Crime gathered together state and federal police, local and international academics, Department of Justice bureaucrats, Ministers, the Law Institute, journalists and authors, the DPP, government agencies, the Police Ombudsman, a representative from the insurance industry and experts from overseas law enforcement agencies.

The group acknowledged there was room for improvement in combating organised crime.

Strategies for change were identified. These included better cooperation between departments within the police force and other police forces and agencies, partnerships with industry and other areas of expertise, the better use of intelligence and, most importantly, increased resources, whether on a permanent or an interim basis.

The conference was an honest assessment of what needed to change and the way in which this could best be effected.

There was an acknowledgment that police corruption, indeed corruption in other institutions, is a symptom of an overall problem.

There does seem to be a commitment to change and the ideas discussed and embraced by government do portend that there will be improvements that will significantly affect the detection, prosecution and conviction of those involved in organised crime in Victoria.

Finally, the release of the Courts Strategic Directions Statement is a welcome inclusion in the matrix of change to the administration of justice. Co-written by the heads of Victoria’s courts and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), it is a frank acknowledgment that the courts and VCAT have been stretched to the limit, and that without significant funding they cannot perform their critical role.

The Courts Strategic Directions Statement provides for structural, procedural and administrative reform. I commend its reading to every practitioner. Some of its recommendations are less controversial but others, such as the rethink on the governance of the courts and VCAT, are more so. However, these are discussions we need to have as part of a mature debate. A number of its recommendations are entirely consistent with comments made in this column this year, but in this statement it is being said in a detailed and holistic way.

This chorus for change simply cannot be ignored, particularly the call for increased resources and the invitation to the profession to participate in the reform.

So if we bring together the disparate but complementary strands of reform to the law, we see the potential for an exciting future which will ensure that Victoria becomes a model state in respect of legal administration in years to come.

Let us put paid to the old adage: plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose (the more things change, the more things remain the same).

Chris Dale


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