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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 7 Hansard (17 October) . . Page.. 1695 ..

MR HUMPHRIES (continuing):

Section 33D of the Interpretation Act 1967 defines an indictable offence as being "an offence under any Act that is punishable by imprisonment for a period exceeding one year". Section 476 of the Crimes Act defines a summary offence against that Act as an offence that is (a) not punishable by imprisonment or (b) punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months.

The three summary offences have been proposed because they would deal more effectively with cases at the lower end of the scale of the indictable offences - offences such as shoplifting and vandalism. They would deal with situations where the value of the property does not exceed $1,000. The majority of cases which fall within the three existing offences involve property with a value of less than $1,000. It would better reflect the reality of the situation if these relatively minor offences were dealt with as summary offences. At present, however, with only the three indictable offences available, even offences of this relatively minor nature must be prosecuted, at least in the first instance, as indictable offences, with penalties of imprisonment for 10 years for theft, under section 99; for two years for making off without payment, under subsection 107(1); and for 10, 15 or 20 years for destroying or damaging property, under section 128.

Further, although the offence may involve an item of low monetary value, it is necessary under section 477 of the Crimes Act to ask the defendant whether he or she will consent to the matter being heard in the Magistrates Court rather than the Supreme Court. It is not uncommon for the question to create confusion and apprehension in the defendant, particularly if the person is unrepresented. The situation is even more unrealistic in that, if the defendant chooses, he or she can put the Territory to the expense of a jury trial. I understand, Mr Speaker, that in the last decade or so that has happened on at least one occasion for a very minor offence of, I think, the stealing of a bar of chocolate.

The ACT Criminal Law Consultative Committee, comprising representatives of bodies involved in the ACT criminal justice system, has suggested that there should be a summary form of these offences, the penalties for which should include a fine and a shorter prison term, or both. This Bill will implement those recommendations with a penalty of imprisonment for six months or a fine not exceeding 50 penalty units, which is $5,000, for all the offences. I commend the Bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.

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