I also rise to speak in support of the Sheriff Bill 2008. This bill will
consolidate the powers of the sheriff and the sheriff’s office.
A number of acts have provided powers for that office over a
period of time, and that has been recognised as a piecemeal approach to the
various legal sources governing the sheriff and the sheriff’s office practices.
That has caused a degree of uncertainty. It is inefficient and is obviously
quite unnecessary. It was good news when in June 2007 the Attorney-General
announced the government would look at consolidating the sheriff’s powers into
one piece of legislation.
The acts where those powers are currently sourced are the
Magistrates’ Court Act, the Supreme Court Act, the County Court Act and the
The consolidation of the sheriff’s powers into one piece of
legislation will mean that under this umbrella the sheriff will have the ability
to arrest a person where authorised by a warrant, the ability to restrain a
person who is hindering the execution of the serving of a warrant, the ability
to demand payment, the seizure of property, the request for names and addresses
in order to identify whether someone is the person named in the warrant — that
is important, of course — and to give directions at roadblocks; mainly it will
allow them to attend with police and check for outstanding warrants. The sheriff
will also have the ability to enter premises to serve documents and search for
persons or property.
This piece of legislation will also modernise a number of
practices and will include new powers that have been mentioned by Ms Mikakos,
and that is the power of enforced entry when executing civil warrants, subject
to a number of appropriate safeguards.
Earlier speakers have gone into the detail of those safeguards.
The sheriff will have the power to enter premises to serve seven-day notices,
the ability to receive payment from third parties in certain circumstances and
the ability to request payment on enforcement orders, which is fairly important,
and a power to seek address information, which we have heard extensively about
already today. It will enable the sheriff’s officers to enforce warrants where
they can be viewed and verified electronically. We are moving into the era of
2009 by using technology to our advantage in exercising warrants and
improvements in the justice system.
I will give a hypothetical example of the need for these new
powers. Under current laws the sheriff has the power to force entry onto a
property to execute a criminal warrant but not a civil warrant.
This inconsistency will be corrected under the legislation as
there is no reason to believe a criminal matter may necessarily be more serious
than a civil matter — for example, under current legislation the sheriff may
use forced entry to execute a warrant for a $100 parking infringement, but the
sheriff cannot do that to execute a warrant against an employer who may owe tens
of thousands of dollars in unpaid wages. We have not just an inconsistency but a
situation where we do not have the sense of justice imbedded in the system that
we are attempting to operate.
A lot of work has gone on in ensuring that there are safeguards
for the new powers that are contained in the bill. The necessity of this bill
regarding the modernisation of the sheriff’s powers can also be explained by
another example. Under current legislation the sheriff is required to have a
paper execution copy of a warrant when executing the warrant, although the copy
is not necessarily given to the defendant.
This is an unnecessary burden and is a burden on the resources
of the sheriff’s office, particularly considering that over 900 000 warrants
were issued in 2006-07. Not only is it a strain on the sheriff’s resources but it is an extremely
wasteful way to treat our natural resources.
As a result of the legislation the sheriff will have the
ability to execute warrants where their existence can be verified by electronic
means. The defendant will not be disadvantaged by this modernisation, as the
bill requires the sheriff to provide all information and documents to the
defendant. While the new legislation gives the sheriff increased powers it will
also ensure that the defendant is aware of the sheriff’s powers and obligations
under the relevant warrant. The defendant will receive a warrant powers summary
which will provide information relating to the warrants being executed and the
powers that the sheriff has under those warrants. The defendant will in no way
be disadvantaged by this new approach.
Some of the issues raised in the amendments proposed by Ms
Pennicuik made me question certain issues when reading the documentation for
this bill. I sought answers in respect of those issues, and I was satisfied with
those answers. I was also pleased to hear Mr Tee give answers in response to
some of the issues raised earlier by Ms Pennicuik. Mr Tee gave comprehensive
answers and is obviously well acquainted with the bill. He has also made sure
that the safeguards are fulsome and that there are checks and balances to ensure
that there is limited ability to misuse the new powers provided by the bill.
Essentially the Sheriff Bill 2008 is an important piece of
legislation for a number of reasons, including the basic fact that it will
simplify procedures for enforcement. It will provide a consolidated resource
that holds the key powers. It modernises the sheriff’s practices, and I have
given the example of advanced electronic data. It also provides greater
protection for sheriff’s officers in the performance of their duties.
All these points contribute to promoting a higher level of
community understanding and community compliance. It will lead to increased
confidence in the Victorian justice system. For all those reasons I stand before
this chamber and urge people to support this bill. I commend it to the house.