This article was produced by the Commission and appeared in the December 2009 issue of the Law Institute Journal.
As the year ends, the Commission reflects on its work for 2009 and looks towards 2010.
This year saw the completion of the jury directions reference. Retired Supreme Court judge, the Honourable Geoff Eames QC AO, played a central role in this project as a consultant to the Commission.
The final report, which the Attorney-General launched in July, contains 52 recommendations designed to improve the process of giving jury directions in a criminal trial and to reduce the possibility of error on the part of the trial judge when doing so. The Commission’s recommendations fall into three broad categories: new legislation that replaces the common law, new practices to assist the jury in understanding the real issues in a case, and more skills training for trial judges and counsel.
The final report followed publication of a consultation paper in September 2008 and subsequent discussion with the profession.
The Commission held a symposium in February this year with members from the New Zealand, New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmanian Law Reform Commissions as well as leading academics to consider jury directions reforms in other jurisdictions.
Surveillance in Public Places
Following the release of a consultation paper in March 2009 the Commission’s surveillance team embarked on a phase of site visits, consultations and forum events.
The surveillance team consulted widely with groups and individuals who have a particular interest in public place surveillance. This process involved visiting a range of sites including Federation Square, the Melbourne Cricket Ground, Melbourne City Council, the State Library of Victoria, Crown Casino and Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre. The team also conducted forums with community groups, users of surveillance and privacy advocates. This process greatly assisted the Commission’s understanding of surveillance practices in Victoria.
The consultation paper sought responses to a range of proposals for improving the regulation of public place surveillance in Victoria. The Commission received 45 submissions which can be viewed on the Commission’s website. Work is now underway on a final report to be handed to the Attorney-General in 2010.
The Attorney-General announced of a two-year long commission review of guardianship and administration law. This is an important opportunity to modernise the laws that assist people with impaired decision-making capacity.
Work has focused on creating consultative committees, background research and preliminary consultations. Work also began on an information paper which will explain the current law and provide a starting point for community consultations.
People interested in the project are encouraged to join our contacts list for this project by contacting the Commission.
In August the Attorney-General announced the Commission would undertake a two-stage review of Victoria’s property laws. The first stage, which will involve an examination of the law of easements and covenants and of the need to update the Property Law Act 1958, will commence by the end of the year. The second stage, which concerns the Transfer of Land Act 1958, should commence in late 2010.
Community Law Reform
The Attorney-General launched a Community Law Reform report in January which made a number of recommendations to provide better legal protection to people with disabilities who use assistance animals.
The Equal Opportunity Act has been amended to reflect some of those proposals and the government is still considering other recommendations.
Supporting Young People in Police Interviews
Work has continued through the year on another Community Law Reform project about support for young people in police interviews. A paper on the topic was release in July and the commission received 23 submissions in response. These submissions can be viewed on our website.
The Community Law Reform team travelled to metropolitan, rural and regional areas to talk to police, volunteers and young people about the police interview process.
Individuals and organisations with ideas for Community Law Reform projects are encouraged to send suggestions to the Commission.
Education and Outreach
Commission staff gave talks to school groups, university classes and community groups throughout the year. A number of staff spoke at conferences interstate and internationally.
Staff went on the road to Horsham, Shepparton and Alexandra to talk to VCE legal studies classes about the work of the Commission.
Early in the year the Commission produced a classroom poster about the law reform process distributed free to legal studies teachers. Posters are still available by contacting the Commission.
The Commission has continued to participate in the Victoria Law Foundation’s intern program.
The Commission continued to be a source of information for the media about the law reform process and specific references. Of particular interest to the media were recommendations arising from the final report of jury directions and the issue of surveillance in public places received coverage following the release of the Commission’s consultation paper.
The Commission’s newest commissioners, Hugh de Kretser and Magistrate Mandy Chambers, began work on their first law reform projects. The Commission is indebted to the hard work of all commissioners throughout the year.