Ms TIERNEY (Western Victoria)— I rise to speak on the Courts Legislation Miscellaneous Amendments Bill 2014. This bill contains many miscellaneous provisions and covers a number of different aspects of the judicial system, and Labor will not be opposing it.
The bill amends a number of acts that currently regulate the operation of Victorian courts and tribunals. We do not oppose the bill, having undertaken extensive consultation on a number of issues with a range of stakeholders.
This has led to significant dialogue between the shadow Attorney-General, the member for Lyndhurst in the Assembly, and the Attorney-General. As was noted during the debate on the bill in the Legislative Assembly, those discussions were substantive and fruitful in terms of Labor being able to make changes to the bill before the house.
Eleven amendments proposed by Labor to the bill were accepted. Most of those amendments deleted certain proposed provisions, thus allowing the current provisions to prevail. The substantive issues put forward by Labor included ensuring that grieving families and those who have an interest in the proceedings of the Coroners Court are not disadvantaged by the proposed shortening of time frames for appeals.
Labor also sought to ensure that there is an appropriate reporting of decisions of the Coroners Court in line with current practice and that the time available to appeal Transport Accident Commission decisions at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal is not reduced for some victims of road trauma. Given the immense exchange of views on this matter that has taken place at a range of levels, we will not oppose this bill.
The purpose of the bill is to make many miscellaneous — as the name suggests — administrative changes to Victoria’s court system to improve efficiency and reduce delay.
Under the changed provisions, courts and tribunals will be released from some of their current restrictive legal obligations. In summary, the bill amends the Supreme Court Act 1986 to provide for appeals to the Court of Appeal in civil proceedings with the leave of that court, which will be granted only if the court is satisfied that the appeal has reasonable prospects of success.
The bill also makes procedural amendments for appeals in the Court of Appeal in the case of civil proceedings only and creates additional regulation powers for court fees.
In respect of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 1998, the bill makes amendments to change the terms and conditions of appointments for non-judicial members and to change aspects of the tribunal’s procedures to enhance its powers and efficiency.
The bill amends the Coroner’s Act 2008 to further provide for appeals to the Supreme Court, to include changes to procedural processes and to amend the period of time in which certain decisions of the coroner may be appealed.
The bill also amends the Court Security Act 1980 to provide for offences regarding the recording of court proceedings. It amends the court and tribunal acts to provide for review of, and appeals from, determinations made by judicial registrars.
The changes regarding appeals being sought in the Court of Appeal will create a filter process whereby only appellants whose cases have a reasonable prospect of success will be granted leave to appeal. This test simplifies the existing position whereby appellants must demonstrate that there is sufficient doubt to warrant reconsideration of the decision of the original court and that substantial injustice would occur if the decision remained.
The new test will result in improved efficiency for the Court of Appeal, which will hear only those matters which have been, in the first instance, assessed as having merit.
Such a test is already being applied to criminal matters, so consistency will be achieved through this new test. It is important to note that appellants in cases involving appeals against a refusal to grant habeas corpus, cases under the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervision) Act 2009 and any other specific cases provided for in the court rules are not required to seek leave before lodging an appeal in the Court of Appeal.
The time within which appellants may seek leave for appeal has been extended from 14 days, or in some cases 21 days, to 28 days.
In respect of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, the bill clarifies the powers that may be exercised by a single member of the tribunal, which will expedite matters that are able to be determined without a panel of members.
Expert members will continue presiding over specialist areas, while members who have acted as mediators are now permitted to be included on the tribunal panel unless a party objects to this.
Members involved in mediations have the benefit of significant knowledge of the matter; however, negotiations held during mediations are generally done on a without-prejudice basis and are not able to be used during court proceedings.
The option for parties to object is intended to reach a balance between the efficiency of the tribunal and protection of the without-prejudice principles. The bill also increases the tribunal’s power to make orders for service on parties located overseas and changes considerations for determining whether a matter is to be reopened after orders are made in the absence of a party.
Procedural changes will also be made to proceedings coming under the Transport Accident Act 1986, the land valuation list, the retail tenancies list and the planning and environment list.
In respect of the Coroners Court, the power of the coroner to hold an inquest at their discretion or upon the request of any person will remain; however, for deaths in custody where the person has died of natural causes the coroner will no longer be required to hold an inquest.
These deaths will be fully investigated and may still be the subject of an inquest at the coroner’s discretion. A senior next of kin may now appeal — on broader grounds — the coroner’s decision not to hold an inquest or not to reopen an inquest.
An appeal will be allowed where the appellant can demonstrate that it is necessary or desirable in the interests of justice to hold or reopen an inquest. A senior next of kin will also be permitted to waive the 48-hour objection period that follows the coroner’s direction to perform an autopsy so that the autopsy can be performed without the 48-hour delay.
In respect of court security, new offences are created by this bill for the unauthorised recording of court and tribunal proceedings. An exemption to the offences will apply to audio recordings by journalists and lawyers in specific circumstances, subject to the discretion of the sitting judge.
New processes will govern the appointment of judicial registrars under this bill, which intends to enhance their independence. Registrars can only be recommended for reappointment if this is supported by the head of the court jurisdiction.
The bill will also allow each court to provide its own mechanism for reviewing a registrar’s decision rather than it being expressly provided for in legislation.
In conclusion, the opposition will not oppose the bill.
We believe that the intention of the bill is to increase the efficiency of Victoria’s courts and tribunals by releasing them from some of their administrative burden. In terms of appeal applications, the provisions are intended to reduce delays by ensuring that only appeals with merit are allocated what could be lengthy hearing times. Seemingly administrative provisions of this nature will ensure that access to justice is maintained.
As I said at the beginning of my contribution, the amendments that Labor sought and put before the Assembly were supported by the government, and opposition members believe that the bill before the Legislative Council this afternoon is a much better and much improved document than what was first introduced into the Assembly some weeks ago.
In terms of other aspects of the bill, I am sure that in her contribution Ms Pennicuik will turn to systemic aspects of the bill which will be dealt with in the committee stage of the debate. I understand that the Greens have proposed a range of amendments that we will deal with on Thursday but, given the substantive amendments Labor was successful in achieving in the Assembly, at this point in time opposition members are satisfied that what is before the Council is appropriate in the circumstances.