This article was produced by the Commission and appeared in the September 2008 issue of the Law Institute Journal.
The Victorian Law Reform Commission is known to most readers of LIJ for its landmark reports on some of the most vexing challenges facing our legal system, such as the law of assisted reproductive technology and adoption, family violence laws, defences to homicide, the law of abortion and the recent Civil Justice Review Report.
Each of these major projects has been referred to the Commission by the Attorney-General. Perhaps less well known, is the ability of the Commission to undertake community law reform projects. These do not require a reference from the Attorney-General; instead they come from community members and organisations.
The aim of the community law reform program is to improve community involvement in law reform by opening up access to people and communities who are not usually involved in law reform but who have good ideas about how the law could be improved.
This is not to say that legal practitioners cannot contribute. Practitioners, through contact with a wide range of clients, are in a unique position to identify where the law could be improved.
The key principle is that community law reform projects address legal issues that are of general community concern, but are small enough to have a relatively straight forward solution. In addition community law reform projects must not require significant resources.
Some projects will lead to recommendations to government; others may take the form of publishing a discussion or research paper. Examples of previous projects include reforms to the Bail Act 1977 and a report on tenancy databases.
As readers of last month’s LIJ would be aware, the Commission is currently undertaking a project on the law of assistance animals.
How does the Commission decide which community law projects to pursue?
Generally we can only complete two projects a year and in deciding whether to undertake a community law reform project the Commission considers:
- The area in which the law applies – the Commission can only make recommendations about state laws.
- The scope of the community law reform project – including the complexity of the legal issues raised, the amount of research required, and the amount of legal change that may be needed. The Commission can only do 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. These types of issues require significant consultation and public debate to resolve. This is better suited to a government initiated reference or inquiry.
- The law reform proposal’s likely public benefit – the Commission is interested in projects that will fix problems with the law that affect a significant proportion of the population or address problems faced by significantly disadvantaged members of the community.
- 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.
Other factors, such as the scope of community involvement, resources required and avoiding duplication, are also considered.
The Commission welcomes law reform proposals from community organisations and members of the public. If you would like to discuss your law reform proposal or if you have ideas about how the Commission can better engage with the community, please call on (03) 8608 7800. Or you can make your suggestion via our website at www.lawreform.vic.gov.au