This article was produced by the Commission and appeared in the December 2010 issue of the Law Institute Journal.
As the year comes to a close, the VLRC reflects on a busy 2010 and looks towards 2011.
The past year has been a particularly busy one for the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC), with several highlights. A number of major reports were completed, significant progress was made in a two-year reference that commenced in May 2009, changes to the membership of the VLRC occurred and a new CEO was appointed.
The work of the VLRC also continued to inform new laws. In October 2010, the Victorian Parliament passed the Civil Procedure Act 2010 and theBail Amendment Act 2010. Both Acts implement recommendations made by the VLRC in earlier reports to then Attorney-General Rob Hulls.
Protection Applications in the Children’s Court
In late November 2009, Attorney-General Rob Hulls asked the VLRC to provide the Government with a range of options for reform of the processes followed in child protection applications. This followed a report to Parliament by the Victorian Ombudsman on the Department of Human Services' child protection program.
One of the Ombudsman's key recommendations was that the VLRC be asked to consider new ways of dealing with child protection matters. The VLRC’s report, Protection Applications in the Children's Court, tabled on 5 October, contained five broad options for reform and numerous detailed proposals.
The VLRC suggested that Victoria move away from child protection procedures that closely resemble those used in summary criminal prosecutions in favour of ones designed specially for this unique jurisdiction. It also suggested that many of the developments in other parts of the legal system could guide procedural change in the Children’s Court.
Surveillance in Public Places
In August, the VLRC’s Surveillance in Public Places: Final Report was tabled in Parliament. The report completed a two-stage inquiry into the widespread use of privacy-invasive technologies.
The VLRC concluded that while there is widespread use of surveillance devices in public places, existing laws were not designed with many of the new technologies in mind. Although the use of surveillance devices in public places produces numerous benefits, most notably in the field of criminal investigation, there are also associated risks.
The VLRC has recommended a regulatory regime that seeks to balance the many competing interests while being sufficiently flexible to allow for rapid changes in technology. The recommendations emphasise promoting best practice use of surveillance technology by education as well as strengthening the legal protection of privacy rights in cases where there has been abuse of public place surveillance.
The VLRC has been reviewing Victoria’s property laws. The first stage of the review has two components—a review of the Property Law Act 1958and a review of the law relating to easements and covenants.
The Property Law Act 1958, which contains an array of provisions dealing with Torrens system land, old system land and personal property, is a statute much in need of modernisation. The VLRC presented its final report—Review of the Property Law Act 1958—to then Attorney-General Rob Hulls on 30 September 2010.
The VLRC’s consultation paper on easements and covenants, released in July, suggests that the law in this area is unduly complex and in need of reform. The VLRC’s final report will be handed to the Attorney-General on 17 December 2010.
In 2009, then Attorney-General Rob Hulls asked the VLRC to review and report on the desirability of changes to the Guardianship and Administration Act 1986.
Extensive consultations followed the publication of an information paper in January 2010. A consultation paper containing options for reform will be released in early 2011.
One of the VLRC’s functions is to examine and make recommendations about matters that are of general community concern but involve relatively minor legal change. In undertaking community law reform projects, the VLRC seeks to promote access for people and groups not traditionally involved in law reform. It also aims to provide simple solutions to gaps, inadequacies or anomalies in the law.
Work continued throughout the year on a project about support for young people in custody when interviewed by the police about possible involvement in a criminal offence.
The final report—Supporting Young People in Police Interviews—was recently delivered to the Attorney-General.
Education and outreach
VLRC staff gave talks to school groups, university classes and community groups throughout the year. A number of staff spoke at conferences interstate and internationally.
The VLRC continued to be a source of information for the media about the law reform process and specific references.
Commissioners and staff
Longstanding Commissioners Paris Aristotle AM and Professor Sam Ricketson retired at the end of June. Justice Iain Ross AO resigned from the VLRC in March upon his appointment as Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal president.
New Commissioners Justice Karin Emerton and Lynne Haultain were welcomed during the year and join Professor Neil Rees (Chairperson), Associate Professor Pam O’Connor, Magistrate Mandy Chambers, Judge Felicity Hampel and Hugh de Kretser.
Merrin Mason was appointed to the position of Chief Executive Officer and succeeds Padma Raman, who took over as executive director of the Australian Human Rights Commission.
The VLRC looks forward to continuing to engage in the ongoing task of modernising Victoria’s laws over the coming year.