Page 561 - Week 02 - Thursday, 19 February 2015

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These efficiencies will reduce delays in court proceedings, which will lead to faster resolution of civil and criminal matters and therefore reduce related costs for the parties involved. They will also assist to prevent backlogs from developing and allow the courts to better manage and deploy their resources.

The first key amendment I would like to highlight is to the Court Procedures Act 2004 to ensure that interlocutory orders made by the Supreme Court for the purposes of an indictable offence, which the court already has the power to make, are binding on subsequent judges.

During a pre-trial hearing the court may make orders, determinations or findings, or give directions or rulings as it thinks appropriate for the efficient management and conduct of the trial. These orders will be binding on the trial judge in the proceedings unless, in the opinion of the trial judge, it would not be in the interests of justice.

The amendment responds to a request by the Chief Justice and will support initiatives such as the Supreme Court “blitz” process by preventing interlocutory orders from being unnecessarily unwound at trial, which may then lead to re-argument of those issues. This can add unnecessary time to the trial and prevent the trial from being heard within estimated time frames.

The amendment includes a safeguard for defendants by allowing a trial judge to set aside an interlocutory order in circumstances where it is in the interests of justice to do so.

Another amendment to the Court Procedures Act will provide clarity and consistency around case management orders in criminal trials, which has been raised by the Director of Public Prosecutions as a serious issue. While the amendments will bring the ACT more into line with other Australian jurisdictions by requiring pre-trial disclosure of expert evidence, they do not go as far as jurisdictions such as New South Wales that require extensive disclosure of the defence case prior to the trial.

The new provisions in the bill require parties to provide each other written notice about whether they will present expert evidence in the proceeding. This will ensure criminal matters can be conducted fairly and expeditiously. The amendments will not prevent a defendant from raising new expert evidence at the trial. They preserve a defendant’s right to silence, as they will only impact on expert evidence that will be relied on during the trial. The amendment only affects the timing of the disclosure of the expert evidence. It does not require the defendant to reveal anything that the defendant would not otherwise have revealed.

Codifying a “without prejudice pre-trial disclosure regime” for expert evidence provides certainty and clarity of processes and time frames to defendants and prosecutors. It also facilitates cases running more smoothly. Everybody wins from such mechanisms.

The bill also amends section 9 of the Supreme Court Act 1933 to require that appeals from interlocutory orders of the master are heard by the Court of Appeal, as is currently the case with orders of a single judge.

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