Committals: Issues Paper (html)

1. Introduction

Referral to the Commission

1.1 On 24 October 2018, the Attorney-General, the Hon. Martin Pakula MP, asked the Victorian Law Reform Commission, under section 5(1)(a) of the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000 (Vic), to review and report on legislative, procedural or administrative changes to Victoria’s committal procedure which could reduce trauma experienced by victims and witnesses, improve efficiency in the criminal justice system and ensure fair trial rights. The terms of reference appear on page ix.

1.2 The Commission is to report by 31 March 2020.

Conduct of this reference

Commission Chair

1.3 This reference was commenced under the leadership of the Hon. Philip Cummins AM, who was Chair of the Commission from 1 September 2012 until his death on 24 February 2019.

1.4 On 4 March 2019 Mr Bruce Gardner PSM was appointed Acting Chair of the Commission. Mr Gardner continued to lead the conduct of the reference and the preparation of this issues paper.


1.5 At the time of receiving this reference the then Chair of the Commission exercised his powers under section 13(1)(b) of the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000 (Vic) to constitute a Division to guide and oversee the conduct of this reference. The members of the Commission who joined the Chair on the Division are Ms Liana Buchanan, Mr Bruce Gardner PSM (now Acting Chair), Mr Dan Nicholson and the Hon. Frank Vincent AO QC.

The Commission’s approach

1.6 The Commission’s approach is guided by the terms of reference and focuses on the underlying objectives set out there—namely, to reduce trauma experienced by victims and witnesses, improve efficiency in the criminal justice system and ensure fair trial rights.

1.7 The Commission recognises that achieving these objectives may require reform of committal or other pre-trial procedures. Whether or not a particular pre-trial procedure is a component of the current committal system is less important than the role it plays, or might potentially play, in reducing trauma for victims and witnesses, improving efficiency, and ensuring fair trial rights.

1.8 Reforms in comparable jurisdictions demonstrate that regardless of what elements of committal proceedings have changed, or even whether or not the language of ‘committals’ has been retained, a mix of pre-trial procedures is required to ensure that indictable offences are dealt with as fairly and efficiently as possible, and do not impose unnecessary stress or trauma on victims and witnesses.

1.9 As part of its review of committal proceedings, the Commission is therefore interested in considering the relative costs or benefits of other pre-trial procedures, as well as the role they can or should play in Victoria’s criminal justice system.

Issues paper

1.10 This issues paper draws on existing research and commentary in Victoria and other jurisdictions on the role of committal and pre-trial proceedings. Its publication marks the beginning of the Commission’s consultation period.

1.11 The Commission is seeking written submissions in response to the questions in this paper or that otherwise address the terms of reference.

1.12 The deadline for submissions is 16 August 2019. Information about how to make a submission is set out on page vii.

1.13 The Commission will also consult with stakeholders after publication of this issues paper.

Summary of this paper

1.14 The chapters that follow describe what committal proceedings are, the committal and pre-trial system in Victoria, and how committal and pre-trial procedures have been reformed in other jurisdictions. For the purpose of informing submissions, the paper then identifies and discusses several significant issues, and considers a selection of reform options and proposals.

1.15 A table appended to the issues paper provides a comparative overview of committal and pre-trial procedures in other Australian jurisdictions. A list of previous reports about committal reform is also appended.