Justice system strengthened with disclosure laws following Lawyer X inquiry

Justice system strengthened with disclosure laws following Lawyer X inquiry

26 October 2021 By Naomi Neilson
Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants

Given the number of prosecutions at risk of being overturned due to the involvement of former barrister and police informant Nicola Gobbo, Victoria has introduced a suite of new reforms aimed at preventing cases from encountering the same risks.

One of the major gaps identified during the Royal Commission into the Management of Police Informants (RCMPI) inquiry was Victoria Police’s failure to alert the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) of Ms Gobbo’s involvement not only with the client facing prosecution but with police on gathering material to assist in possible arrests.

Under legislation introduced into the Victorian parliament this week, disclosure obligations as part of criminal proceedings will be improved. It will mean that informants’, usually police, will be obligated to provide the DPP with all relevant information to ensure criminal prosecutions are conducted fairly and lawfully.

Commenting on this reform, Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes said: “The royal commission shone a light on the gaps in our justice system which we cannot ignore – that’s why we’re getting on with implementing all of the recommendations.

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“The safety and wellbeing of all victim-survivors and their experience of the justice system [are] at the core of a number of the reforms that we’re delivering.”

Police will need to begin completing a disclosure certificate identifying information that has been withheld from the brief of evidence, which will ensure that parties are aware and can seek an order from the court to have the material disclosed.

The information police and informants must offer up include criminal history, payments, reduction in charges or other favourable treatment due to cooperation.

Other reforms to shake up Victorian courtrooms

The legislation will also allow the Chief Magistrate to be appointed in parallel as a Supreme Court judge, similarly to the heads of the County Court and VCAT, recognising the significance of the role overseeing the state’s busiest court.

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Additionally, the Supreme Court and County Court will be able to provide an accused person with a clearer indication of the likely sentence they will receive if they plead guilty at an early stage. This will enable appropriate early guilty pleas, the speedier resolution of criminal cases and will spare additional trauma.

Other changes in the bill include an amendment allowing applications for Personal Safety Intervention Orders (PSIO) applications to be made online rather than in court. This change will improve accessibility for victims, enable PSIO proceedings to commence more quickly, better protecting those who are victims of stalking and harassment.

The bill will implement two outstanding recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence, including allowing evidence in family violence matters to be delivered remotely to prevent victim-survivors from being re-traumatised by having to face a family violence perpetrator.

“Allowing the County and Supreme Courts to provide sentence indications will help the courts to deal with criminal cases faster and deliver better outcomes for many victim-survivors,” Ms Symes said.

Justice system strengthened with disclosure laws following Lawyer X inquiry
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