‘Fundamentally unsound’: ACT government removes jury trials

By Naomi Neilson|05 April 2020
jury

The ACT government has enacted legislation to remove the right of the accused to a trial by jury in a move that has alarmed the law society.

In an emergency response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, new legislation from the ACT government will see judges empowered to order a trial to proceed by a judge alone if they determine it is in the interests of justice, with the court’s decision final.

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Chair of the society’s criminal law committee, Michael Kukulies-Smith said it is a tenet of the rule of law and the decision is “fundamentally unsound and misguided”.

“The right to trial by jury is a significant, longstanding right in our legal system that’s been constantly observed by the High Court of Australia,” Mr Kukulies-Smith said.

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The Law Society said it acknowledges there is a need to reform existing laws and policies amid COVID-19 to allow courts to function as normal as possible. However, it noted that NSW has passed legislation that included only amendments to judge-alone trials.

Fundamental to the NSW scheme is no judge-alone trial can occur unless all parties, and specifically the accused, has agreed to proceed. The NSW legislation ensures that a right to a trial by jury is still protected amid COVID-19 uncertainty.

“The ACT government has inexplicably opted to take an approach that’s radically different to the NSW solution, despite the chief minister repeatedly emphasising the importance of the ACT taking action that is consistent with NSW at this time,” it said in a statement.

“The law society is alarmed that the ACT government has taken this action, when NSW has already proved that legislation like this can be enacted without abrogating rights.”

‘Fundamentally unsound’: ACT government removes jury trials
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