Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (18 February) . . Page.. 112 ..
MS DUNDAS (continuing):
We will be supporting this bill as it is important to keep our statute book modern, up-to-date and reflecting the will and common practices of our community. I have had time to peruse the amendments that have been circulated and they seem to be worthy of support as well.
MR STANHOPE (Chief Minister, Attorney-General, Minister for Community Affairs and Minister for the Environment) (4.09), in reply: I thank members for their contribution to the debate and their foreshadowed support of the legislation. As has been indicated, the Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill does make essentially minor and uncontroversial amendments to a number of laws administered by the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
Portfolio bills of this sort are a very efficient and convenient way of amending the law, particularly where it can be agreed amongst us that the amendments are essentially minor or technical. It is important that we keep amendments in omnibus bills of this sort minor and technical in order that we can have some confidence in the process, that we are not trying to slip in in a devious way some significant policy issues or initiatives that change the nature of the world as we know it. It is the government's submission, of course, that all of the amendments that are proposed achieve that.
As members have indicated, I have circulated some proposed government amendments as a result of a decision by the Magistrates Court since the tabling of the Justice and Community Safety Legislation Amendment Bill (No 2), this bill, which highlighted a possible conflict between the Leases (Commercial and Retail Act) 2001 and the Magistrates Court (Civil Jurisdiction) Act 1982. In light of the court's decision in that matter, the government deems it appropriate to consider further amendments to the Leases (Commercial and Retail) Act and the Magistrates Court (Civil Jurisdiction) Act. I have circulated those amendments and I will move them at the appropriate time.
The only issue that I will comment on is the issue in relation to the Juries Act that was raised by both Mr Stefaniak and Ms Tucker quite specifically. The advice that I have is that only one other jurisdiction in Australia does provide the same exemption from jury duty, that is, Victoria. Victoria has not kept any detailed statistics or advice on the extent to which the exemption is claimed or utilised by people in Victoria seeking to assert religious belief as a ground for non-service on a jury. Anecdotally, however, we have been advised that the exemption is rarely sought and is not an issue for Victoria.
I am advised that no other Australian jurisdiction has an exemption of the same order that proscribes religious beliefs as a belief that would prevent service on a jury. It is not just the Victorian experience on which I would rely. I have to say that, in any event, if a person appears in a court, summonsed for jury service, and asserts that they have a genuine belief, based on religion, which renders it inappropriate for them to serve on that jury, they should thereby be excused. It is not one of those things that people go around doing. If somebody did do it in a spurious way, I would trust in the judgment of the court, or those officers appearing before the court for either the prosecution or the defence, to take the appropriate steps or actions in that instance.