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Committals an essential feature of a fair criminal justice system

Committals an essential feature of a fair criminal justice system

By LIV Media

Courts Criminal Procedure 


Committal hearings are integral to ensuring fairness in criminal proceedings, the LIV has argued in a submission on proposed reforms to criminal procedure – and any changes to committal procedure should be explored only to the extent that they do not undermine the accused's right to a fair trial.

The role and usefulness of committal hearings are frequently called into question, and committal hearings are often blamed for delays in the criminal justice process. However, the LIV submission points out that a lack of resources rather than pre-trial proceedings are the major cause of delays in the criminal justice system.

The importance of committal hearings in ensuring fairness in the criminal trial process has been repeatedly affirmed by Australian courts, the submission points out.

"Committal hearings enable both the prosecution and defence to determine the relevance and admissibility of evidence gathered during the course of the police investigation. Additionally, the Court is able to identify those charges where there is insufficient evidence to convict the accused at trial."

The submission addresses a number of recommendations, including a proposal by the Supreme Court for flexible early case management that it claims would enable all parties to proceed more quickly through the criminal justice system by minimising duplication between the courts.

While the LIV supports the Supreme Court's objective of reducing delays, it is concerned that the proposal should not do so at the expense of a fair trial for the accused. "This will require a significant injection of resources into the Supreme Court. If these resources are not provided, the proposed changes could actually increase the delays they seek to prevent."

The LIV also opposes a proposal to introduce a new leave test for the cross-examination of complainants at a committal hearing. "To do so would unduly narrow the purposes of committals and reduce the fairness of the criminal process. This result would be counter-productive and result in increased delay and trauma for victims," it said.

The LIV also does not support the removal of committal hearings where the complainant of a sexual offence is a child or person with a cognitive impairment. Complainants who are children or who have a cognitive impairment are not currently required to give evidence at a committal. The average length of a sexual offence committal hearing is one to two days, and where the complainant is not available it is more likely to be one day.

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