Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 04 Hansard (Thursday, 7 April 2011) . . Page.. 1616 ..
Under the amendments proposed by Mrs Dunne’s, where the DPP elects for matters with penalties of five years or less to be heard in the Magistrates Court and facts emerge during the hearing that warrant a longer sentence, the election precludes the matter being referred back to the Supreme Court for sentence, which is a limitation on what currently exists.
There are further difficulties with the amendments. They would reduce the existing sentencing jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court as the maximum sentencing jurisdiction of magistrates is currently five years, not two. Under the Greens’ model, where the DPP does not make an election and the defendant elects for a matter with up to five years penalty to be heard in the Magistrates Court, the court’s sentencing jurisdiction would be reduced to two years, and more matters may be referred to the Supreme Court for sentence. (Extension of time granted)
The granting of such a broad discretion to the DPP is potentially problematic, as it would give greater power to the DPP than he currently enjoys, particularly in the context of a small jurisdiction. The scrutiny committee itself has commented on this issue in its report of 4 April this year. In its report, the committee has expressed a concern, shared by the government, that it may be unfair to vest in the prosecutor a discretion to decide whether the defendant should be deprived of the capacity to decide whether the matter should be tried in the Supreme Court.
The proposed discretion also lacks transparency and there would be no mechanism for review or challenge. The discretion proposed is quite different from the existing power of the DPP to consent to aggravated robbery and burglary charges being summarily disposed of; in that case, the defendant must also consent.
I have highlighted the difficulties with the amendments. The government reiterates its firm view that the preferable approach is of course structural reform to deal with delays in our court system. We reiterate our firm view that these changes will at best prove to be an interim or temporary solution to the problems faced structurally in the case workload of the Supreme Court, and we express the fear that we will be back here in a relatively short period of time to have to again deal with ongoing delay in the Supreme Court.
That said, it is clear that, unless amendments are made to the government’s bill today, it will not pass at all. And for that reason the government will engage in the discussion on those amendments and indicate its preferred way forward in those circumstances.
I commend the bill to the Assembly.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to in principle.
Debate (on motion by Mrs Dunne) adjourned to the next sitting.