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Victorian law reform: Filling in the gaps

Every Issue

Cite as: September 2013 87 (9) LIJ, p.81

Community law reform can have a big effect on the lives of ordinary people.

As well as undertaking major law reform projects referred to it by the Attorney-General, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) may also examine and make recommendations to the Attorney-General about matters that are of general community concern but involve relatively minor legal change. The VLRC considers this statutory function an important part of its overall operation.

The community law reform program is linked to access to justice. Its aim is to improve accessibility for people and communities who are not traditionally involved in law reform but who may have ideas about how the law could be improved. To identify issues, the VLRC asks the public and community groups for suggestions about legal problems that might fit the program. Suggestions range widely and completed projects include: failure to appear in court in response to bail (2002); residential tenancy databases (2006); assistance animals (2009); and supporting young people in police interviews (2011). All reports are available on the VLRC website.

Criteria for community suggestions

In undertaking the projects, the VLRC aims to address legal issues that are of general community concern, but that are discrete enough to have a relatively straightforward solution.

Approximately 20–30 community law reform suggestions are submitted to the VLRC each year. Usually the VLRC can only work on one such project at a time. In deciding whether to undertake a community law reform project the VLRC considers:

  • the area in which the law applies – the VLRC can only make recommendations about state laws;
  • the scope of the community law reform project – including the complexity of the legal issues raised, the research required and the amount of legal change that may be needed. The VLRC can only undertake community law reform projects that deal with relatively small changes to the law.
  • the amount of community consultation that will be needed to fully consider the issue. Complex and controversial subjects or areas of law that do not have strong community consensus will generally not fit within community law reform projects, as they require significant consultation and public debate to resolve, and are better suited to a government-initiated reference or inquiry;
  • the law reform proposal’s likely benefit – the VLRC is interested in projects that affect a substantial proportion of the population or address problems faced by disadvantaged members of the community; and
  • the prospects of success for the reform proposal – community law reform projects must provide a simple, effective solution to an anomaly, inequity or gap in the law.

Community consultation is an important part of the reform function. The Commission prepares a consultation paper on each project and invites written submissions. It recognises that not all members of the community are able to make written submissions and invites participation in a variety of ways to ensure vulnerable or disadvantaged sectors of the community are heard. During a project the VLRC visits rural and regional Victoria, attending community centres or holding roundtable consultations that target particular groups.

During the recent project on birth registration and birth certificates, the VLRC undertook 33 face-to-face consultations and received 13 written submissions. Submissions received are published on the VLRC website unless requested it be treated as confidential.

Birth registration

The VLRC recently prepared a report that examines barriers to birth registration and obtaining a birth certificate.

The report focuses on barriers faced by disadvantaged people, including Indigenous, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and other vulnerable groups including young mothers. The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University suggested this project after being made aware of problems faced by Indigenous people in the Gippsland region in obtaining proof of identity documents, sometimes resulting from their birth not being registered.

The report has been delivered to the Attorney-General.

Future projects

The VLRC is considering suggestions for its next community law reform project and invites suggestions from the community using the online form on the VLRC website (www.lawreform.vic.gov.au). The VLRC also accepts suggestions by email or letter.

Keep informed about the VLRC’s work through its website, Facebook page and Twitter (@viclawreform).



Contributed by the VICTORIAN LAW REFORM COMMISSION. For further information ph 8608 7800 or see www.lawreform.vic.gov.au.

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