Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2009 Week 09 Hansard (Thursday, 20 August 2009) . . Page.. 3442 ..
satisfied that they are amendments required to fully implement the reform. The Greens will also be supporting the remainder of this amendment bill on the basis that it makes technical and uncontroversial amendments.
MR CORBELL (Molonglo—Attorney-General, Minister for the Environment, Climate Change and Water, Minister for Energy and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (11.10), in reply: I thank members for their support for this piece of legislation. After the series of reforms that this government introduced last year for the criminal justice system, it would be easy to sit back and think that we do not need to address any further issues for a while. The reality is that the criminal justice system is central to the safety of our community and must constantly be under scrutiny to ensure that it is meeting the needs of our community as effectively as possible.
This bill builds upon and finetunes the initiatives this government introduced last year that provide greater protections for vulnerable witnesses in proceedings for sexual and violent offences. It also enhances the new processes for the committal of indictable matters to the Supreme Court. In continuing to assess feedback from stakeholders about these reforms, the government acknowledges how important it is to address the needs of the community and ensure that the criminal justice system is responsive to the rights of both defendants and victims.
The bill provides an alternative mechanism for courts to ensure that unrepresented accused people will still have the right to test the evidence of a witness through a third person, whilst continuing to protect vulnerable witnesses. The government is aware that there are a variety of situations where an accused person may not want a lawyer to represent them or a lawyer has stopped acting for them during the criminal process. The direct questioning of vulnerable witnesses by a self-represented accused is not acceptable or appropriate by the standards of today’s society, a fact that is now widely recognised as, if allowed to occur, it is effectively the retraumatisation or the revictimisation of a victim.
The bill includes a scheme where the court can appoint a person who is not a lawyer to ask questions of the witness on behalf of the accused. This provides the court with an alternative option to ensure that the defendant’s and victim’s rights are both addressed. It will also minimise the potential for delays to proceedings caused by adjournments when a self-represented accused person has not engaged a legal representative at the trial or defended hearing.
The bill also includes a change to the procedures used by the Magistrates Court when a defendant who has been served with a summons to appear fails to appear. The government amended these provisions last year to introduce protections so that the courts would only deal with matters in the absence of a defendant where the court was satisfied that the defendant knew about the proceedings and understood the consequences of not attending court.
While this provided important protections for the rights of our community and reduced the likelihood that a person would be convicted without having the chance to defend themselves, the magistrates of the ACT Magistrates Court have drawn some concerns to my attention. They consider that this scheme could pose a threat to the