Jury Directions

Jury trials lie at the centre of our criminal justice system, being an important way for citizens to participate in the governance of our society. But there was concern that the law in this area was too complex, causing miscommunication between judges and juries. Frequently judges' directions to juries were found to be too technical, unclear or unhelpful.  

In January 2008, the Attorney-General asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission to review and recommend changes to simplify, shorten or improve the directions given by judges to juries in criminal trials.  

During the review, the Commission released a consultation paper in September 2008 and a background paper in December 2008, from which 18 submissions were received. A two-day symposium with other law reform commissions, judges and academics clarified the issues and informed the review. 

The final report, tabled in Parliament on 29 July 2009, recommended significant legislative reforms to improve jury direction processes in criminal trials. 

Implementation

Recommendation number 1 of the report was that 'The law concerning jury directions in criminal trials should be located in a single statute.'

This happened when the Jury Directions Act 2015 (Vic) came into force on 29 June 2015, enshrining many of  the Commission's recommendations in legislation.

The 2015 Act stated that jury directions should be as clear, brief, simple and comprehensible as possible. Judges should avoid technical legal language wherever possible, and should only direct the jury on points of law that the jury needs to know. The Act states that the judge need not use any particular form of words. 

The changes also simplify and clarify important directions in regard to evidence.

The Jury Directions and Other Acts Amendment Act 2017 (Vic) subsequently implemented a number of amendments relating to directions regarding the reliability of a witness's evidence, a witness's motive to lie, and complainants' accounts of an alleged sexual offence. It also implemented the Commission's recommendations that judges can order a jury guide to be given to the jury to help it perform its functions and substituted the term “victim’s” for “complainant’s” in jury directions.

On 29 August 2017 the Jury Directions and Other Acts Amendment Act 2017 (Vic) was assented to. 

View the Jury Directions and Other Acts Amendment Act 2017.

Timeline

Current: Table in parliament

Full timeline:

Reference
Consultation
Submissions
Final report
Tabled in parliament
View full timeline

Project Publications

Jury Directions: Final Report

The Commission's final report on jury directions, tabled in Parliament on 29 July 2009, makes 52 recommendations to reduce the complexity of judges'...

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Jury Directions: Recommendations

In its final report on Jury Directions published in July 2009, the Commission made the 52 recommendations set out below: 1. The law concerning jury...

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Jury Directions: Consultation Paper

Published in September 2008, this consultation paper outlined proposals and options for reforming the directions judges give to juries in criminal...

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Jury Directions: Terms of Reference

In January 2008, the Attorney-General asked the Commission to review and report on the law and practice of judges' directions to juries under the...

Read more here

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