Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2023

29 August 2023

It is a pleasure to also rise and add my contribution on the Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2023. This bill is really about getting on with that ongoing business of improving our justice system. As we go into a third term of government, it is a really important part of our legislative work that we do. This bill is important in maintaining a fair, efficient and effective legal system that responds to those ever-changing needs and that complexity of society. It ensures that laws remain relevant, they are just and they are aligned with the principles of a democratic and equitable society.

As we have heard from contributions today, there are a whole range of changes and amendments that this bill speaks to. It will do several things, but I thought I would touch on a couple of those today that are of interest to me. One, I would like to speak about the bill making changes to enhance the administration of justice by improving those efficiencies, clarifying legislation uncertainties and further supporting the courts and tribunals. These changes ensure that Victoria’s legal systems are inclusive for all Victorians and get that balance right of safety with opportunities for rehabilitation. I would also like to speak, secondly, on the bill expanding the firefighters presumptive rights legislation to include three female-specific cancers – cervical, ovarian and uterine. This bill, thirdly, also implements some changes recommended by the Tanya Day inquest, and I will speak to those. If I have time I would also like to speak about ensuring those consumers have up-to-date information in relation to lawyer misconduct.

Speaking to that first part, making permanent those remote hearings and court security arrangements, if we do not make these changes they will lapse in October this year. The bill confirms that the authorised officers can use their existing powers to effectively manage court and tribunal premises in response to public health risks. This of course was very evident during the pandemic. Government had introduced temporary measures to allow the courts and tribunals to use a variety of technologies and continue to operate remotely. These measures were very much a success, really, and helped support public access to those hearings.

These provisions will authorise officers to restrict access to courts and tribunals by giving reasonable directions for the health of all people on premises. This is when a pandemic declaration is in force. The reason is to give those courts and tribunals the confidence and flexibility to introduce measures, and I believe it will help mitigate delays to the administration of justice. It is really important to note here that this is not an expansion of authorised powers for those authorised officers. This is simply clarifying that the powers can be used to respond appropriately to those public health events.

Just on the measures to amend the Open Courts Act 2013, this bill will continue to support – as I have spoken about – remote public access so courts and tribunals can continue to have remote hearings as part of their business-as-usual operation. It also allows courts to provide alternatives to physical access. We know that ordinary hearings must be held in open court in accordance with the Open Courts Act. This is really just to satisfy the open justice approach that we have, but this concept of open court really has traditionally meant open in a physical sense. With the technological changes that we have seen, we need to be flexible. Public and media attendance is really an important part of that process, and it obviously promotes scrutiny and builds confidence in our system, but those technological advances that we have had and having remote hearings have allowed us to have a different openness to our courts – for example, through live streaming. I just want to note at this point that the circumstances and risks that may be identified in doing those things will be taken into account when they assess which method is best in the interests of justice. This amendment, as I have said, will be a positive step in addressing some of the backlog and reducing the number of hearings that need to be adjourned. We know that these reforms are supported. They can manage their premises safely and digital technology can be administered in the justice system in a flexible, effective and efficient manner.

The second point I want to speak about is addressing that this bill does expand the Firefighters’ Presumptive Rights Compensation and Fire Services Legislation Amendment (Reform) Act 2019 to include the three female-specific cancers, cervical, ovarian and uterine. The Victorian government has acknowledged there are significant risks and dangers to our firefighters and other fire service personnel. They are exposed in the course of their service. In recognising that, in 2019 the government did legislate the firefighters presumptive rights compensation scheme. It is a scheme that recognises the invaluable services provided by firefighters. Earlier this year the government did make that commitment to expand this scheme, and we have acted quickly to bring this bill and these changes. The presumptive rights scheme does mean that if people are diagnosed with specific cancers they do not need to prove that the cancer is directly attributed to their service in order to access this compensation. This will ensure more equitable access to cancer compensation for female firefighters. With the growing number of female firefighters, having the same rights as their male counterparts is absolutely the right thing. At this moment I would like to thank our own local firefighters on the Bellarine, who do a tremendous job keeping our communities safe. The contribution they make to the Bellarine is immeasurable, and I would like to thank them.

With the time that I have got left, I will touch on a few other things that this bill does do. This will implement recommendation 2 of the Tanya Day coronial inquest, making sure that there are changes to clarify the role of police coronial investigators in coronial investigations. This bill will allow the coroner to direct coronial investigators, who will be required to comply with reasonable and lawful direction. This will improve the transparency and independence of our system and provide a clear framework around their role. This is also about making sure we reduce any potential conflict of interest where police coronial investigators are investigating deaths where police were involved. I note that these changes are particularly important for our First Nations community.

Finally, part of the amendment is to ensure that consumers have up-to-date information about lawyer misconduct. We know that finding the right lawyer may be hard, but when you do have a lawyer that does the wrong thing there is a significant power imbalance there. There are changes in this bill that will talk to making sure that our consumers are protected and that wrongdoings are transparent. That sends a clear message to lawyers who do the wrong thing that they will be held to account.

In conclusion to this debate today, in summary, this bill does make a whole variety of amendments, but ultimately it is about improving our justice system. As new challenges and new issues and technologies have emerged, justice legislation does need to be updated to address these changes efficiently, and the legislation that we are putting forward today does that. Amendments help rectify and promote equal treatment under the law regardless of factors such as race, gender, socio-economic status and other characteristics. This bill is certainly important in maintaining a fair, an efficient and an effective legal system that can respond to the ever-changing needs and complexities of our society. It ensures that the law remains relevant and aligns with those principles of a democratic and equitable society. It is a pleasure to speak on this bill, and I commend the bill to the house.