Jury Directions Symposium

The Victorian Law Reform Commission recently hosted a symposium as part of the consultation process for its reference on Jury Directions.

Three Australian law reform commissions – the Victorian, New South Wales and Queensland commissions – currently have references dealing with jury directions.

Chair of the Commission Professor Neil Rees said while each jurisdiction had different terms-of-reference, the symposium was an invaluable opportunity to exchange research and reform proposals.

He said the principles guiding reform of jury directions were shared across jurisdictions and included: simplicity, certainty, clarity and ease of comprehension. At the heart of any reform should also be the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal against conviction.

Professor Rees said the commission had undertaken extensive consultation in Victoria and it was important to also learn from the experience of other jurisdictions.

In addition to the eastern states, members of law reform commissions in Tasmania and New Zealand attended the two-day event along with members of the judiciary, and leading academic researchers.

A consultation paper was released in September last year and a summary of this was released in December titled: Jury Directions: a closer look.

This summary refines the commission’s original proposals to six points:

  • Most directions to be discretionary
  • Content of some directions to be codified
  • Counsel should assist in identification of issues prior to trial
  • Right of appeal restricted where point not taken below
  • The rule in Pemble’s case be confined to its original scope

A set of questions relating to these proposals was devised to assist those making a submission to the commission and are included in the summary paper which can be found on the commission’s website.

Professor Rees said the level of interest and participation in the reference by the legal community had been high and he was grateful to everyone who had attended a consultation session or made a submission.

He said it is an important reference that has the potential to significantly change criminal trials in Victoria and to ensure that fewer cases proceed to an appeal on the basis of judicial directions.

The commission has received 17 submissions including contributions from Victoria Legal Aid, Criminal Bar Association, the Judicial College of Victoria, Law Council of Australia and Office of Public Prosecutions.

For the first time submissions to the commission are available to download at www.lawreform.vic.gov.au

The commission is in the final stages of completing the final report which is due to the Attorney-General by 1 June 2009.

This article was produced by the commission and appeared in the April 2009 issue of the Law Institute Journal. 

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