Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 10 Hansard (Tuesday, 26 August 2008) . . Page.. 3647 ..
they have now seen the wisdom of such an approach. I thought it could have been put in this legislation but it has not. That is a rather unfortunate omission.
These are welcome reforms. They are ones that should have been made some time ago. As I said, we have proposed a number of these reforms over the last four years, but they are only now being picked up by government. As I said, I have a couple of amendments relating to ex parte hearings. I suggest that we simply omit those, because I think they place an onerous, very time-consuming burden, in having to prove that a defendant knew all about the matter and was knowingly not going to attend court. That tends to blow out the costs, even though I am told that we do not have all that many ex parte hearings in any one week. Again, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? My two amendments go to that. I make those comments in relation to this bill, which the opposition will be supporting.
MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (5.09): I will be supporting this bill, which seeks to provide greater efficiency to our justice system through a range of administrative and substantive measures. The bill changes the thresholds for hearing criminal matters in the Magistrates Court, which will allow this court to hear a greater range of relatively minor offences. This includes matters like common assault which the Magistrates Court is well equipped to deal with. I am satisfied that the Magistrates Court has the relevant expertise to deal with these matters. By ensuring that matters can be handled in the Magistrates Court rather than in the Supreme Court, I anticipate that there will be some cost saving, as matters going to the Supreme Court generally result in a high use of resources.
The bill also allows the defendant the option to elect to have charges of aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery heard in the Magistrates Court rather than in the Supreme Court. This can only be done with the agreement of the Magistrates Court and the prosecution. My understanding is that this will occur in cases where the offence is of a relatively minor nature, notwithstanding that the class of offence also includes very serious crimes.
The explanatory statement for the bill explains that these offences cover situations in which two people steal a small amount of property from a home without any violence or property damage. It also covers situations where much more serious crimes occur. In the former case, it may be sensible to refer the offence to the Magistrates Court. This seems to be a sensible change. However, it does highlight the problems with having offence provisions that group together very serious crimes and more minor crimes. This may be something that needs to be looked at in the future.
The bill makes changes to the current procedure for ex parte hearings, as Mr Stefaniak has just outlined, which occur when the defendant fails to attend court following a summons. The current position allows the court to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the defendant. The explanatory statement says that this may be incompatible with the Human Rights Act since the defendant may not have been personally served with a summons and may be unaware of his obligation to attend court.
This may be a concern, but I do not think that the bill deals with this adequately. The bill requires the magistrate to be satisfied that the defendant knows the hearing date