December 4, 2015  |  

Justice Legislation Further Amendment Bill 2015

Mr CARROLL (Niddrie) — It is my pleasure to rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Further Amendment Bill 2015. In following the member for Hawthorn, it is pleasing to note the opposition’s support because this is an important reform to build on Victoria’s existing cooperative judicial system, where the head of the Coroners Court, the president of the Children’s Court and the president of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal are members of either the County or Supreme courts. These reforms will ensure that our system of justice works effectively and our workload pressures are streamlined as much as possible.

In relation to the streamlining process, as was touched on earlier we are making some key reforms in the area of warrants, particularly electronic warrants. This reform came out of a State Coroner’s report, which recommended in the Finding — Inquest into the Death of Luke Geoffrey Batty, that all warrants issued in relation to family violence‑related incidents be executed with high priority and entered on the Victoria Police LEAP system within 24 hours. As the Attorney‑General said in his second‑reading speech:

The bill will significantly streamline the warrant process by enabling magistrates and registers in the Magistrates and Children’s courts to transfer the warrant information electronically to Victoria Police’s LEAP system via the court’s information technology system, known as Courtlink. This is not currently possible, because if Victoria Police print their own version of the warrant from the LEAP system, the printed version will not have been signed or authenticated by the issuing magistrate or registrar and may therefore be unenforceable.

Essentially we are going from a manual process, where the existing Victoria Police process for executing a copy of a warrant to arrest involves a number of manual steps. This obviously can result in delays and errors, primarily due to provisions in the Magistrate’s Court Act, which provides that at the time of execution of a warrant, it must be in writing and must be signed or otherwise authenticated by the person issuing it. The average time under the existing process from court issue to availability to update the Victoria Police LEAP database is between two and four days. As we have seen — sadly, repeatedly — a delay of two to four days in relation to the execution of a warrant can result in tragic circumstances.

This legislation brought forward by the Attorney‑General will go a long way to ensuring that the consequences to the community and to families are reduced and that where the arrest of an offender needs to be executed quickly, especially where an offender has been accused previously of violent offences, the issuing of the warrant, through the streamlining process from the court to Victoria Police happens swiftly and succinctly.

The legislation covers an enormous variety of bills and makes an enormous variety of amendments overall to our judicial system. I touched on the electronic transfer of warrants and, as the member for Hawthorn noted, we are also streamlining the appointment of Koori Court elders and respected persons. Earlier this year I had the pleasure to represent the Minister for Police and the Attorney‑General at the Aboriginal Justice Forum, which was a two‑day forum held in Mildura, with representatives from our judicial system and the Department of Justice and Regulation, including the secretary.

Streamlining the process for Koori elders to be appointed to the Koori Court, particularly in areas such as Mildura where the caseload is quite significant, is a step in the right direction. My predecessor in the electorate of Niddrie was Rob Hulls, who was an outstanding Attorney‑General, arguably the best Attorney‑General ever. He did a fantastic job in setting up the Koori Court. He also set up the Drug Court and is to be commended on his legacy. But it is about building on that legacy. At least he set up a legacy that we can build on, unlike the immediately previous Attorney‑General.

It is very important that we are streamlining this process. The previous government set up Court Services Victoria (CSV), which was a good initiative in terms of separating the judicial arm from that of the executive. This follows that process in that rather than the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation appointing Koori elders, appointments will be made by the independent Court Services Victoria. We have seen the good work that CSV does through its annual reports. This legislation goes some way to fix and streamline our Koori justice system.

I want to briefly touch on the Victims of Crime Assistance Tribunal (VOCAT). We are working to ensure that victims do not feel even more victimised. This hit home to me last night when I was watching Sarah Ferguson’s excellent program on domestic violence on ABC TV. When you watched that program, you saw firsthand how a victim of domestic violence becomes a victim again through the court process. The adversarial nature of courts needs to change as we are in the 21st century. We are here on White Ribbon Day, when the Parliament is also being lit up in orange for Orange Day, to join with our partners around the world that have lit up their institutions for government. We need to ensure that perpetrators are accountable and also ensure that victims do not feel victimised again.

When I worked at the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office I had a bit to do with VOCAT. The processes that victims go through to get assistance when they are a victim of a crime can be quite cumbersome. The legislation brought forward by the Attorney‑General will remove the requirement for a victim of crime to submit a statutory declaration to verify their application to VOCAT, while ensuring that the exemptions and safeguards remain. These reforms will make the compensatory process more efficient and responsive to the needs of victims of crime. The Attorney‑General is to be commended for his work in this area to streamline the application process, and I congratulate him on that.

Another area that I want to touch on is the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). We have all been renters at one point in time, and so many tenancy issues are processed through VCAT. This bill will make sure that in landlord‑tenant proceedings, where the tenant has been unfairly disadvantaged by the fee reimbursement process, that that process will be tightened in proceedings brought by landlords against tenants, many of whom sometimes are economically disadvantaged. The statistics tell me that only 20 per cent of tenants attend proceedings under the Residential Tenancies Act 1997. In addition, respondent tenants are not able to seek a fee waiver on financial hardship grounds. This legislation will result in an appropriate balance between the interests of landlords and tenants to ensure equity and fairness.

The bill removes proceedings under the Residential Tenancies Act from the operation of the fee reimbursement presumption. A fee reimbursement order will continue to be available in relation to VCAT proceedings under the Residential Tenancies Act, but in making an order for the reimbursement of fees, VCAT will be required to have regard to the nature of and issues in relation to the proceedings, the conduct of the parties and the result of the proceeding, if it has been reached.

Essentially this legislation is about fairness and equity in our judicial process and making sure that everything works together. I have some correspondence in front of me from the Law Institute of Victoria, and I quote that:

The Law Institute of Victoria (LIV) writes to express support for … the Justice Legislation Further Amendment Bill … currently before the Victorian Parliament.

In particular:

The LIV supports the proposed amendments contained in … the bill —

which recognise —

… the importance of ensuring adequate remuneration and related benefits … to magistrates.

Furthermore, it believes:

… opportunities for judges and magistrates holding a dual commission to hear matters in other jurisdictions and thus broaden their experience as judicial officers —

would enhance opportunities for judges and magistrates to gain broader skills.

There has been wide consultation on this legislation. The Law Institute of Victoria supports it. It is being supported, as we heard from the member for Hawthorn, by the opposition. I welcome his remarks, and I agree with some of what he said in terms of monitoring as CSV takes over from the Secretary of the Department of Justice and Regulation the role of appointing Koori elders and respected persons. There needs to be monitoring and ongoing vigilance of that change to ensure that it operates to the very best standards.

Importantly though CSV does prepare annual reports. It has really made a great contribution in assisting the workload of the Department of Justice and Regulation, and it is to be commended. This bill will ensure the smooth operation of the courts and tribunals, but most importantly it will increase the execution of warrants throughout Victoria, and I welcome that.