Reflections on a year as Chair of the VLRC

By The Hon. Philip Cummins, Chair, Victorian Law Reform Commission

On 1 September 2012 I was appointed Chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission. I express my appreciation to the Victorian Attorney-General, the Hon. Robert Clark MP, and to government for the honour of the appointment.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000 was amended in May 2012 so that the Chair may be full-time or part-time. Hitherto the office had been full-time. The duties of the office are such that for its proper performance substantial time commitment is necessary. I was appointed Chair of the Commission on an 0.8 FTE basis. The Attorney-General has graciously encouraged me to continue as Chair of the Victoria Law Foundation and President of Court Network Inc., and in my ongoing association with the Melbourne Law School. There is a synergy between these positions, as they complement each other. I also serve as Chair of the Victims of Crime Consultative Committee established by the Attorney-General.

The members of the Commission, all part time, are Bruce Gardner PSM, Dr Ian Hardingham QC, Saul Holt SC, David Jones AM, Eamonn Moran PSM QC and the Hon. Frank Vincent AO QC. In September 2013 Alison O’Brien, Assistant Victorian Government Solicitor, was appointed a part-time Commissioner. The Commission and the community, are fortunate to have persons of such capacity and wide experience as Commissioners. I warmly acknowledge the Chairs and Commissioners who have preceded the present Commissioners and served the community very well.

The tripartite ethos of the Commission is to be inclusive, independent and innovative. These complementary qualities inform the work of the Commission.

It is apposite for a Law Reform Commission to be innovative, open to new ideas and approaches, and to advance them. True innovation also requires an understanding of past approaches and solutions.

Independence is a necessary quality: independence of government in its political and administrative dimensions, independence of the courts, and independence of other external entities. With independence comes the responsibility to be fair and balanced in addressing issues, transparent in process, and objective, evidence-based and measured in judgment.

Inclusiveness is the hallmark of the Commission. It goes out to the courts, the legal profession, the public and community sectors, places of specialised knowledge, and especially to the community, to enfranchise and respect all persons, to listen and learn. This quality of inclusiveness involves substantial expenditure of time and resources.

The Commission is conscious of the importance of timely fulfilment of its functions including delivery of its reports and of fiscal responsibility.

The principal work of the Commission is the fulfilment of references made to it by the Attorney-General. During my first year as Chair, the major reference on Succession Law, under the able hand of its Lead Commissioner Dr Ian Hardingham QC, was completed and the Report delivered to the Attorney-General in August 2013. The references on the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 and on jury empanelment are well advanced. The Report on the community law reform reference on birth registration and birth certificates was delivered to the Attorney-General in July 2013. These are all matters of substance, which have been the subject of articles in this Journal. In the last quarter of 2013 I anticipate receiving further references from the Attorney-General.

I would like to see an even balance between references on civil and criminal law. It also is important that the work in community law reform continues. The Commission’s reports should be a repository of law, consultation and analysis and have longitudinal reach. Its recommendations should be relevant, succinct and achievable.

In this triennium the Commission will give close attention to its educational function, particularly in schools and in regional and rural Victoria. This educational function has an interface with the work of the Victoria Law Foundation. The Commission presents in schools across Victoria on Unit 3 of the VCE curriculum – Law-making – and joins with the Victoria Law Foundation in its twice-yearly presentation of Law Talks to rural and regional Years 11 and 12 students.

A further interface is that of the Commission, the Victoria Law Foundation and the Melbourne Law School. Co-chaired by the Dean of the Melbourne Law School, Professor Carolyn Evans, and me, the Annual Law Oration is presented jointly by the Law School and the Foundation. In September 2012 the Oration was delivered by the Right Hon. the Lord Walker of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom on the topic ‘Developing the common law: how far is too far?’, in which His Lordship also addressed the matter of law reform. In October 2013 the Law Oration is to be delivered by the Hon. Robert Clark MP, Attorney-General, on the topic ‘Tradition and reform in the law.’

I record my gratitude to government, the courts, the profession, and the Bar and Institute for the substantial commitment provided so willingly in the pursuit of law reform. It does much credit to the law in this state.

 

Date published: 
05 Dec 2013

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