THE INSTALLATION of Labor governments across the nation has given hope to those seeking harmonisation of rules governing Australia’s legal practitioners.
It appears that these hopes were well founded, with Attorney-General Robert McClelland introducing a raft of legislation last week to progress initiatives dominating the agenda of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General (SCAG).
In a statement accompanying the introduction of the latest legislation, the AG pointed to the Evidence Amendment Bill and the Judiciary Amendment Bill as “clear examples of the Rudd Government co-operating closely with the states and territories to achieve progress for the nation.”
The revised Evidence Bill — based on a Model Bill adopted by SCAG from law reform commission recommendations — aims to establish uniformity of evidence laws across Australia. It is hoped that this will improve efficiencies for the courts, legal practitioners and business.
The Bill also includes a number of amendments to assist vulnerable witnesses to give evidence, such as promoting the use of narrative evidence and changes to better controlled cross-examination to prevent improper questioning.
“These reforms will make it easier for children and people with an intellectual disability to give evidence before the courts,” said McClelland. “This is of particular significance where the child witness has been the victim of an offence,” he said.
The implementation of the Model Bill will also reform the way courts consider the evidence of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders on their traditional laws and customs.
Still on the government agenda are considerations of provisions of the Model Bill dealing with confidential relationships, in the context of the Government’s response to the ALRC Report on Privilege tabled earlier this year, and the implementation of its election commitments on journalist shield laws.
Another amendment, the Judiciary Amendment Bill has also been introduced into parliament, and is aimed at harmonising state and territory laws related to the recovery of invalid taxes which apply in proceedings in the federal jurisdiction for the recovery of those taxes.
“The Judiciary Amendment Bill is another example of the Rudd Government’s strong commitment to co-operative federalism,” Mr McClelland said.
“The Rudd Government has acted promptly to introduce these amendments to ensure that risk to state and territory revenue is minimised.”