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Statement from Greens justice spokesperson Sue Pennicuik

News

Cite as: September 2014 88 (09) LIJ, p.22

Key areas of concern for the Greens are IBAC, sentencing and adequate funding of access to justice.

Equal access to justice for everyone in the community is fundamental to our democracy and a fair and transparent justice system. The justice system must be adequately resourced and our courts should have the widest range of sentencing options available to suit the particular circumstances of every case that comes before them.

The Greens have been concerned at the escalating law and order rhetoric of the current government and its accompanying legislative changes that have passed the Parliament. We have also been concerned with, and have opposed a raft of changes to the sentencing regimes that have been introduced in this term of Parliament that encroach on the discretion of the courts and can result in unfair sentencing outcomes that are contrary to the interests of justice and are resulting in an increase in the number of people in prison and police cells.

There have been 19 bills which the Greens have either tried to amend, to refer to the Legislative Council Legal and Social Issues Legislation Standing Committee for inquiry and consideration and/or have voted against at the second reading.

Bills which the Greens moved to refer to the Legal and Social Issues Legislation Committee include three of the bills that established IBAC and legislation regarding criminal organisations, protected disclosures, double jeopardy, barring orders, community corrections orders, mandatory sentencing (gross violence), summary offences and sentencing (move on powers) and most recently, the fines reform bill. These bills proposed major changes to the sentencing regime and/or infringed upon human rights. In every case, the government used its majority of one in the upper house to vote against the referral.

The government has refused to allow any bills apart from (Greens) private members’ bills and one government bill (International Wills) to be referred to the Legal and Social Issues Legislation Committee. The Victorian Parliament lags behind other states and the Australian Senate in this regard, where bills are routinely referred to legislation committees before debate in the Parliament. Often the government of the day will amend its own legislation as a result of the inquiry by the appropriate Senate committee.

The Greens moved reasoned amendments to the Sentencing Legislation (Abolition of Home Detention) Bill, the Justice Legislation (Protective Services Officers) Bill, Sentencing Further Amendment Bill (abolition of suspended sentences) and the Civil Procedure and Legal Profession Amendment Bill – in all cases to “refuse to read the bill a second time” until a public review or evaluation had been conducted.

The Greens also moved amendments or voted against certain clauses in Committee of the Whole to a number of these bills, including the Justice Legislation (Infringement Offences) Bill, the IBAC (Investigative Functions) Bill, Crimes Investigative Powers (DNA) and the Sentencing Amendment (Abolition of Suspended Sentences and Other Matters) Bill.

Ultimately, the Greens voted against the legislation regarding double jeopardy, abolition of home detention and suspended sentences, barring orders, protective services officers, criminal organisations, protected disclosures, mandatory sentencing (gross violence), civil procedure, summary offences and sentencing (move on powers), fines reform and three of the bills that established IBAC.

The Greens did not support the final IBAC bills because we were concerned about basic flaws in the legislation that we had outlined in parliamentary debate on earlier bills and we argued that there should be more time to thoroughly examine the bills and obtain public input. These concerns were also raised by many expert commentators and remain despite IBAC commencing operations. Chapter 5 of the Special Report Following IBAC’s First Year of Being Fully Operational states that: “Some powers commonly found in equivalent legislation in other jurisdictions are not found in the IBAC legislation”. We believe that improvements can be made to the IBAC legislation.

Throughout this term of government, the Greens have been concerned by resourcing issues in the courts about which the Chief Justice has made public comments, and by cuts to legal aid and community legal centres which have resulted in an increasing number of unrepresented litigants appearing in the courts and many others not receiving appropriate advice before their court appearance.

In order to ensure that there is equal access to the justice system, particularly for our most disadvantaged citizens, governments must provide secure, ongoing funding for community legal centres and legal aid in both the criminal and civil jurisdictions. I have directed questions on notice to the Attorney-General with regard to inadequate legal aid funding and its impact on the operation of the courts.

While there have been some minor improvements to the justice system during this term of government, on the whole, the Greens have been disturbed by the general “tough on crime” agenda and the introduction of legislation that has cumulatively led to significant reductions in sentencing options and incursions into judicial discretion. These changes are not evidence based and are resulting in an exploding prison population. At the time of writing, bills proposing more of these changes have been introduced to parliament but not debated.

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