Justice Legislation Amendment (system Enhancements And Other Matters) Bill 2021
"The justice system and the courts have been among the areas hardest hit by the pandemic. The last I heard, over 150 000 cases were adjourned or delayed"
Dr READ: I will only speak briefly on the Justice Legislation Amendment (System Enhancements and Other Matters) Bill 2021. We may have more to say on this in the other place after talking more with stakeholders. It is a substantial bill, much of it technical, relating to criminal proceedings in the courts as well as the wider justice system, including corrections.
The justice system and the courts have been among the areas hardest hit by the pandemic. The last I heard, over 150 000 cases were adjourned or delayed. The majority were criminal cases in the Magistrates Court, the engine room of our justice system, and it was already struggling prior to the pandemic. The Greens have supported many of the temporary and permanent initiatives to try and run the justice system during the pandemic, with streamlined electronic processes and the increasing shift to online hearings, but we now know that these measures have really only barely kept the system afloat. Our primary concern is that these delays in the courts, particularly in criminal cases, may increase the likelihood of unjust outcomes.
I understand that the court services and the government have considered all number of new initiatives to help clear the backlog, which is quite appropriate. Many of the administrative changes proposed in the bill make a lot of sense, and we support them. But I think we need to accept that there will be no quick fix. The reality is that we will only be able to clear these cases in a realistic time frame with more resources being allocated, which means more money to run more courts in more places more often.
I understand that it is tempting to cut corners—to shave off judicial procedures, checks and balances—in order to achieve quicker results, but we do have to be careful that in seeking to fix a crisis we do not create another one. I am particularly wary of any permanent changes to a system that has been very finely calibrated over many years to deliver effective justice. Too often when such changes are made it appears that they always seem to involve sacrificing people’s rights and protections for the purpose of expediency.
Now, we are aware of serious concerns raised by some justice stakeholders and already referenced by some speakers about some of the proposed permanent changes to the Criminal Procedure Act 2009. We have also heard concerns about the 12-month extension of prisoner quarantine in the corrections system and the lack of obvious accountability measures to ensure that the system operates in a way that is always compliant with our international human rights obligations. Some of these changes may have been included in the bill without wider consultation with key justice stakeholders, which we think is inappropriate even in times of crisis. Notwithstanding these concerns, the Greens recognise that this is still not a time for partisan politics, and we hope that we will be able to work together to ensure that this bill best meets the challenges the justice system faces from the COVID-19 pandemic. I look forward to continuing to talk to relevant justice stakeholders, the government and all other members to this end as this bill moves through the Parliament.
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