Victoria fast tracks homicide matters amid coronavirus rush

By Naomi Neilson|26 March 2020

To relieve pressure on the legal system in light of the global health crisis, the Magistrates’ Court has fast tracked cases directly to the Supreme Court. Here is what that means.

To relieve the pressure on the Magistrates’ and Children’s Courts, charges of murder and manslaughter will skip the typical committal hearing before the smaller courts and instead will be directly heard before the Supreme Court, in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the current COVID-19 circumstances, and having regard to the volume of matters that are before the Magistrates’ Court, the Supreme Court has agreed to assist by taking parts of that workload, where the parties wish to do so,” the Supreme Court announced.

During the committal process, the prosecution is required to disclose material to defence and there will still be an opportunity to test some of the evidence through the examination of witnesses, with the leave of the court. At the end of the committal hearing, the smaller court would typically decide whether or not the accused will stand trial.

This responsibility will now fall to the Supreme Court. The procedure will be mirrored with cases from the Children’s Court on homicide matters, which typically has its own process.

By shifting the cases directly to the Supreme Court, homicide matters will progress toward a jury at a faster rate than it might otherwise do in “current circumstances”. It will also give cases an opportunity to be better managed once jury trials are able to recommence.

“However, the procedure is an entirely voluntary one,” noted a statement from the courts. “If any of the parties do not wish to use this procedure, the matter will proceed through a committal stream in the lower courts as and when they are able to accommodate them.”

Victoria fast tracks homicide matters amid coronavirus rush
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