Page 27 - Week 01 - Tuesday, 15 February 2011

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This reform is a practical solution to ensure that people who have been arrested for breaching bail granted in connection with a Supreme Court case will not to wait any longer than necessary before appearing in court.

The reason for the extension to the Magistrates Court’s bail jurisdiction has already been put to the Assembly in some detail. I will confine myself to discussing how the new provision will operate.

Often an accused person’s case is before the Supreme Court in the sense I explained earlier—that the Magistrates Court no longer has any authority to grant bail or review a bail decision. However, the proposed new section 20(1)(b) provides an exception to this limitation. The exception applies when an accused person is arrested for a breach or anticipated breach of bail under section 56A of the Bail Act and it is not a Supreme Court sitting day.

In those circumstances, the Magistrates Court has jurisdiction to determine issues relating to bail. It should be noted that the definition of “sitting day” restricts the power to Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. It is not the government’s intent to extend the power to periods when the Supreme Court is otherwise not sitting. In addition, the exception only comes in to play when the Magistrates Court is already sitting to deal with its own business. This prevents the Magistrates Court from being obliged to sit especially to deal with a breach of bail in a Supreme Court matter.

I anticipate that members will be aware of the recent human rights incompatibility statement issued by the ACT Supreme Court. I think it is appropriate for me to emphasise that this decision does not in any way impact on the reforms in the Bail Amendment Bill. The issue of the incompatibility statement is a matter under careful consideration and I do not want to pre-empt any decision the government might make. Suffice it to say that these reforms are a positive step in human rights terms.

In conclusion, I want to emphasise that the reforms have been carefully formulated to reduce the number of bail applications being heard in the Supreme Court while still ensuring that accused people are able to access the higher courts when it is appropriate for them to do so. Court delays are a major issue in many Australian jurisdictions, and abroad, and the ACT, regrettably, is not an exception. It is important that the government seeks ways of addressing delay by ensuring that judicial resources are used effectively. These reforms will free the higher courts to deal with the more serious matters in a more timely way and so support the government’s commitment to improve access to justice.

I would also observe that these reforms, whilst important, do not do all the heavy lifting that needs to be done in reducing the workload of the Supreme Court. Members would be aware that the government has previously proposed the establishment of a middle tier in our court system to free up the Supreme Court in its workload. We maintain that that reform is the fundamental restructure or reform needed to deal with these issues. But we note, and we accept, the view of the majority of members in this place that that reform will not be supported. We believe that is regrettable and we believe that this place will be asked to revisit and reconsider the issue of a third court, a middle tier, in a very short period of time.

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