As well as undertaking major law reform projects referred to it by the Attorney-General, the Victorian Law Reform Commission may also examine and make recommendations to the Attorney-General about matters that are of general community concern but involve relatively minor legal change. The Commission is fortunate to have this statutory function and considers it an important part of its overall operation.
The community law reform program is linked to access to justice. The aim of the program is to improve accessibility for people and communities who are not traditionally involved in law reform but who may have ideas about how the law could be improved. To identify issues, we ask the public and community groups for suggestions about legal problems that might fit our program. Suggestions range widely and completed projects include:
• Failure to Appear in Court in Response to Bail (2002)
• Residential Tenancy Databases (2006)
• Assistance Animals (2009)
• Supporting Young People in Police Interviews (2011).
All reports are available on the Commission’s website.
Criteria for community suggestions
In undertaking the projects, the Commission aims to address legal issues that are of general community concern, but that are discrete enough to have a relatively straightforward solution.
Approximately 20–30 community law reform suggestions are submitted to the Commission each year. Usually the Commission can only work on one community law reform project at a time. In deciding whether to undertake a community law reform project the Commission considers:
• The area in which the law applies – the Commission can only make recommendations about state laws.
• The scope of the community law reform project – including the complexity of the legal issues raised, the amount of research required and the amount of legal change that may be needed. The Commission can only undertake community law reform projects that deal with relatively small changes to the law.
• The amount of community consultation that will be needed to fully consider the issue – complex and controversial subjects or areas of law that do not have strong community consensus will generally not fit within community law reform projects. These types of issues require significant consultation and public debate to resolve. This is better suited to a government-initiated reference or inquiry.
• The law reform proposal’s likely benefit – the Commission is interested in projects that affect a significant proportion of the population or address problems faced by disadvantaged members of the community.
• The prospects of success for the reform proposal – community law reform projects must provide a simple, effective solution to an anomaly, inequity or gap in the law.
Many of the suggestions the Commission receives do not come within these criteria. If this is the case, the Commission often refers the person making the suggestion to an agency better able to address it.
Community consultation is a significant part of the community law reform function. The Commission prepares a consultation paper on each project and invites written submissions. The Commission recognises that not all members of the community are able to make written submissions and invites participation in a variety of ways to ensure vulnerable or disadvantaged sectors of the community are heard. During a project the Commission visits rural and regional Victoria, attending community centres or holding roundtable consultations that target particular groups.
During the recent project on birth registration and birth certificates, the Commission undertook 33 face-to-face consultations with interested individuals, community groups and agencies and received 13 written submissions. Submissions received for this and other projects are published on the Commission’s website unless the author requests it be treated as confidential.
Birth registration project
The Commission has recently prepared a report that examines barriers to birth registration and obtaining a birth certificate.
The report focuses on barriers faced by disadvantaged people, including Indigenous people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, and other vulnerable groups including young mothers. The Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University suggested this project. The Castan Centre had been made aware of problems faced by Indigenous people in the Gippsland region in obtaining proof of identity documents, sometimes resulting from their birth not being registered. The Commission report examines these and other issues in detail.
The report has been delivered to the Attorney-General. You can find more information about the report on the Commission’s website.
The Commission is considering suggestions for its next community law reform project and invites suggestions from the community. You can make a suggestion through the Commission’s website. The Commission also accepts suggestions by email or letter.