The Victorian Law Reform Commission is calling for submissions to a review that could lead to important changes to the state’s committals system.
Committal proceedings are the process by which serious criminal charges are transferred to a higher court. They include a decision by a magistrate about whether the evidence is sufficient to send the accused to trial. Other steps in the process involve the disclosure of evidence and the cross-examination of witnesses.
The Commission has been asked by the state government to determine whether the process can be made more efficient, while reducing the trauma to victims of crime and ensuring fair trial rights. Options under consideration include reforming the process or abolishing committals completely.
Common criticisms are that the committals process is too lengthy, that defence lawyers use committals as a ‘fishing exercise’, and that victims are traumatised by delays and unnecessary cross-examinations.
On the other hand, committals ensure that unfounded cases do not proceed to trial, and that the accused knows the evidence against them, which is essential for a fair trial.
The Commission has published an issues paper and questions on its website. Questions include the extent of cross-examination at committal, the role of the Director of Public Prosecutions, and whether there are other ways to ensure that cases are resolved quickly and parties are prepared for trial. The paper includes options for consideration.
“The role, benefits and costs of committal proceedings have been debated in Australia for decades,” said the acting Chair of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, Bruce Gardner PSM. “This review is an opportunity to consider reforming the system by encouraging appropriate early guilty pleas and minimising trauma to victims, while ensuring a fair trial for the accused.”
Visit the Victorian Law Reform Commission website to download the issues paper and make a submission. The Commission is consulting widely during July and August, and submissions are open until 16 August 2019.
For more information or an interview with Bruce Gardner please contact:
Nick Gadd, Communications Manager, Tel: 03 8608 7824 Mob: 0425 862 119.