Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 03 Hansard (Tuesday, 20 March 2018) . . Page.. 756 ..
The ACT is opening up to the rest of the world. If we are to encourage the best administration of justice in such a globalised world, it is important that we facilitate a connection between the ACT courts and locations both within and outside Australia. Doing so will help avoid preventable delays and unfair outcomes in a situation where key witnesses are outside the ACT or overseas.
This bill also makes several amendments to the Coroners Act 1997. For example, one amendment allows the coroner to obtain the medical records of the deceased in any reportable death. Quite often the deceased person’s medical records will be very detailed, especially where people have previously received considerable medical treatment. In such cases, coroners may be able to determine the cause of death by reviewing the deceased person’s medical records without conducting an invasive autopsy. Losing someone you love is difficult and painful. Knowing that an autopsy is being conducted on their body can be traumatic. By eliminating the need for unnecessary invasive autopsies, this amendment attempts to reduce the distress caused to the family and friends of the deceased.
The bill also makes a considerable effort to safeguard individuals’ religious and cultural rights. Different cultures and religions have varying beliefs, traditions and practices when it comes to death and how a body should be treated. Some cultures believe in the sanctity of keeping the human body complete. Others have no direct objection to autopsies but believe that organs must be returned to the body or that the funeral must not be delayed. For example, some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities believe that there should be restrictions on interfering with a deceased person’s body.
In fact, in 2009 one Indigenous artist launched an injunction to stop an autopsy on her son. She believed that if the body was interfered with by foreign hand, her son’s spirit would be prevented from moving forward. This bill takes such concerns into consideration. It provides that whenever coroners exercise a function or make a decision relating to an inquest, they must be more culturally sensitive. They must consider the benefits of reducing any distress that could be caused to the family of the deceased who, because of their cultural and spiritual beliefs, could reasonably be expected to be distressed or offended by the coroner’s actions or decisions. This could involve asking a family member about how they could best respect the deceased person’s attitudes and beliefs.
Continuing along this vein of protecting individuals’ human rights, the bill amends the Juries Act 1967 to allow more people to participate in jury duty. Currently, those who are differently abled or have an insufficient grasp of the English language are not considered to be qualified to serve as jurors. The changes proposed in this bill allow such individuals to serve as jurors if they wish to do so. Instead of being discharged, a person who is eager to participate in jury duty but has a difficulty with the language or is suffering from a mental or physical disability will be provided with support that can reasonably be given. This may include an interpreter, including an Auslan interpreter, or an assistance animal, a disability aid or a support person. The bill also takes care to not pressure those who feel that they would not be equipped for such a task. If a