ACT CHIEF Minister John Stanhope said double jeopardy law reform is being carried out as “law reform behind closed doors”.
His criticism follows last month’s Council Of Australian Governments (COAG) meeting where all governments, except the ACT and Victoria, agreed to implement the recommendations of the Double Jeopardy Law Reform COAG Working Group.
The COAG working group solely comprised government officials from the Commonwealth and States and Territories.
“There was no call for submissions. There has been no public debate because nobody knew it was on the COAG agenda. I stand ready to be convinced that this reform is appropriate but I’m not all comfortable proceeding with law reform of this sort without offering academics, institutions and the legal profession an opportunity to engage in the debate.
“Nobody knew this process was occurring — this is law reform behind closed doors,” Stanhope said.
“[COAG] considered the matter on the basis of a report that didn’t consult any of the states’ bar associations, the Law Council of Australia, did not seek the views of legal academics, did not seek the opinion of the Legal Aid Commission or Commissioners, did not seek the advice of the Federal Human Rights Commissioner or any members of HREOC, did not seek to involve the Human Rights Commissioners of Victoria or the ACT.
“So I don’t think it allows for an informed decision, not just of the evil sought to be addressed by reform, but also the implications of the justice system for the reform.”
ACT Human Rights Commissioner, Helen Watchirs, confirmed she had not heard about the proposed reforms, despite the fact that the principle of double jeopardy is protected under the Human Rights Act, 2004.
Watchirs believes the reforms are being rushed through in other jurisdictions.
“I wouldn’t like to see what happened with tort law reform happen with this because in this case people are being locked up. The ACT didn’t jump at introducing tort reform and that’s been seen as a good thing in retrospect,” Watchirs said.
Other states have indicated they will adopt the COAG working group’s reforms on double jeopardy law reform in relation to prosecution appeals against acquittals, and prosecution appeals against sentence.
Stanhope expressed concern that it was a reaction to high profile cases, such as the Carroll case in which the High Court held that where Raymond John Carroll had been acquitted of murdering 17-month-old baby, Deidre Kennedy, it was an abuse of process to try him for perjury in relation to the same matter.
“I’ve always been concerned though at this penchant for making legal reforms in response to high profile, wrenching, emotional cases such as the Carroll case because I don’t think law reform in those circumstances makes for good law,” Stanhope said.
Stanhope said he intends to write the Law Reform Commission to see whether they will accept a brief to review double jeopardy laws with full community consultation.
“I don’t think it’s appropriate to simply walk away from those principles without a full and detailed investigation. My concern is that through SCAG and COAG there has been a push for reform that hasn’t involved a public inquiry and involved the full range of stakeholders with an obvious and valid point of view,” Stanhope said.