This article was produced by the Commission and appeared in the December 2011 issue of the Law Institute Journal.
This month the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) will deliver two significant reports dealing with guardianship laws and the administration of the Victorian sex offenders registration scheme, bringing a busy year to a close.
The VLRC has continued to play a central role in the law reform process, taking an open and accessible approach to community engagement, and making practical recommendations for reform.
Sex offenders registration
In April this year, the Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark asked the VLRC to review the law governing the registration of sex offenders in Victoria. This reference followed the tabling in Parliament in February of a report by the Victorian Ombudsman George Brouwer on the failure by police to inform the Child Protection Division of the Department of Human Services that many registered sex offenders were living with or had unsupervised contact with children.
As part of its consultation and engagement process, the VLRC met with numerous organisations and individuals, held two roundtables and an open day, and released an information paper calling for submissions. The VLRC drew on this feedback in devising the recommendations in its final report.
The VLRC’s review coincided with considerable public discussion about the proliferation of “sexting”, and concern about the consequences for young people who could be placed on the sex offenders register as a result of this conduct.
In 2009 the then Attorney-General Rob Hulls asked the VLRC to review Victoria’s guardianship laws to ensure they respond to the needs of people with impaired decision-making capacity, while also advancing and protecting their rights.
Guardianship laws deal with formal arrangements available to a person who is unable to make their own decisions about important matters because of a disability. The review includes consideration of the role of guardians and administrators, informal decision making for adults with impaired mental capacity and the appointment of substitute decision makers.
The final report is the culmination of more than two years extensive research and community consultation. The recommendations call for new guardianship laws and processes that reflect contemporary thinking about people with impaired decision-making capacity and cater for increased usage and modern conditions.
Supporting young people in police interviews
In June the VLRC launched its Supporting Young People in Police Interviews: Final Report – highlighting the VLRC’s important community law reform function.
This report was the result of a community law reform project that started in 2009 at the suggestion of the Youth Referral and Independent Person Program (YRIPP), which provides a pool of trained volunteers to perform the role of independent person in police interviews.
Section 464E of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) directs Victorian police officers to only interview a person in custody who is under the age of 18 if their parent or guardian is present, or if the parent or guardian is unavailable, with an independent person present. However, the Act does not provide a clear definition of independent person, nor does it explain their role.
The VLRC’s report contained 24 recommendations, including:
- building on the successful YRIPP pilot program and establishing the scheme statewide;
- changing the name from independent person to support person to better indicate the nature of the role;
- having the legislation clearly describe the role of the support person.
In May the Attorney-General tabled the VLRC’s Easements and Covenants: Final Report in the Victorian Parliament. The report made 47 recommendations that would simplify and clarify the law, reduce costs and improve access to justice. They would also make it easier for landowners and purchasers to know their rights and obligations.
This year the VLRC has continued to provide in-depth legal research and consultation on key areas of law reform, culminating in the completion of two significant references that recommend considered, modern ways to update the law in Victoria.