Page 257 - Week 01 - Thursday, 17 February 2011

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Additionally, I note that the government has recently introduced a suite of other legislative reforms to reduce pressure on the Supreme Court. The government has recently tabled the Courts Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and the Bail Amendment Bill 2010.

The Courts Legislation Bill will require offences with a maximum penalty of five years or less to be heard exclusively in the Magistrates Court. Presently, defendants charged with offences with maximum penalties from two to five years imprisonment may elect to have these matters dealt with summarily in the Magistrates Court or heard on indictment in the Supreme Court. This reform will move a significant number of offences to the Magistrates Court where they can be dealt with appropriately while untying resources in the Supreme Court.

The Bail Amendment Bill 2010 passed by the Assembly earlier this week introduces significant reforms to the way that bail is administered in the territory to address the backlogs in the Supreme Court.

In addition to these amendments I have recently announced, together with the Chief Justice, a review of case management practices in the Supreme Court. The bill I present here today amends the relevant provisions to remove the option of election for trial by judge alone for all offences involving the death of a person. This includes murder, manslaughter and culpable driving occasioning death. Further, the bill also removes the option of election for trial by judge alone for all the sexual offences contained in the Crimes Act, including child pornography offences and bestiality.

The offences proposed to be covered by these reforms are clearly set out in the schedule to the bill. These charges represent the most serious allegations that can be made against a member of our society. They are also often matters which require decisions and findings of fact to be made involving the application and assessment of community standards. As such, a person accused of serious crimes is best judged by a jury of his or her peers.

The bill further clarifies the government’s intention around the timing of the election. The provision now makes it clear that the election must be made prior to the identity of the trial judge being known to the accused or to his or her legal representatives. This is designed to minimise what is commonly referred to as judge shopping or forum shopping.

Finally, the bill increases several penalties relating to sexual offences. The penalties have been increased for the offences of act of indecency without consent, possession of child pornography and using the internet et cetera to deprave young people. The increases in the penalties are to ensure consistency with amendments to the Courts Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 and to amendments to the Supreme Court Act in this bill.

While these reforms may not be popular with some stakeholders, I believe they are necessary to ensure the integrity of our criminal justice system. It was never intended that judge-alone trials would be the norm. It was never intended that they would be available so routinely and in such a large number of so very serious cases.

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