Watching Over Civil Justice

This article was produced by the Commission and appeared in the October 2007 issue of the Law Institute Journal.  

With the completion of the Assisted Reproductive Technology reference and the Review of the Bail Act report soon to be tabled, the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) is turning its attention to its two ongoing references: Civil Justice and Surveillance in Public Places.

The large scope of the civil justice reform project was always going to be difficult to condense into a report in just one year. In August the VLRC asked the Attorney-General for a six-month extension of its reporting deadline and received approval to deliver a report by 4 March 2008.

Last month’s column outlined the draft proposals for reform the VLRC had sent to stakeholders for comment. About 30 submissions were received, adding to the 60 that had already been sent in response to the Consultation Paper.

Now it has its extension, the VLRC has taken the opportunity to consult further with stakeholders on the issues of: case management; self-represented litigants; vexatious litigants; discovery; rule making; and ongoing reform mechanisms.

Once responses to these issues are received the VLRC will finalise its recommendations and the report to government, which will set the stage for the second phase of civil justice reform.

Surveillance in Public Places

The Surveillance in Public places project is the second stage of the Commission’s Privacy reference, which delivered a report on Workplace Privacy in October 2005.

The terms of reference for the project ask the commission to report on whether legislative or other measures are necessary to ensure there is appropriate control of surveillance in public places.

Close to 30 roundtables with users and subjects of surveillance have been held since late last year. These discussions have helped the VLRC tease out people’s definitions of key terms in the project, such as ‘surveillance’ and ‘public places’, as well as understand the reasons behind surveillance being used and current regulation of different practices.

Roundtable participants were broadly grouped into the categories of state government and statutory bodies, police, local government, private corporations and community representatives.

The VLRC has also sought briefing papers from experts in two areas—the consideration of cyberspace as a public place and the impact of anti-terrorism legislation on the control of surveillance.

A Consultation Paper is planned for release in early 2008.


It’s been a busy time for implementation of the VLRC’s recommendations in past references with the government’s announcement in August that it will introduce a new Family Violence Act, as recommended in the VLRC’s Review of Family Violence Laws Report.

The Attorney-General said the new Act would:

• make it easier for family violence victims to stay in the family home with their children, while the perpetrator of violence is removed
• make it more difficult for self-represented perpetrators to cross-examine their victims in court
• expand the definition of family violence to include economic and emotional abuse and other types of threatening and controlling behaviour
• broaden the definition of ‘family member’ to cover unpaid carers in informal care arrangements.

The Workplace Privacy Final Report’s recommendation to ban surveillance in all workplace toilets, changerooms and the like was the basis of the Surveillance Devices (Workplace Privacy) Act 2006, which came into operation on 1 July.

In the Act’s second reading speech the Attorney-General said it was the first stage in the government’s response to workplace privacy protection. He said the government will work towards national workplace privacy law reform through the Standing Committee of Attorneys General but would take its own action if the committee cannot agree.

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