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Law change could affect presumption of innocence
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Law change could affect presumption of innocence

A proposal by the South Australian Attorney-General for juries to hear criminal convictions before the sentencing phase has drawn the ire of legal groups.Attorney-General John Rau announced…

A proposal by the South Australian Attorney-General for juries to hear criminal convictions before the sentencing phase has drawn the ire of legal groups.

Attorney-General John Rau announced today (2 August) that he will be starting negotiations with the legal profession over the proposals, which would amend the Evidence Act 1921 by allowing juries to hear similar fact evidence, propensity evidence and evidence of uncharged acts.

"It is clear that there are some limited occasions when I believe it is right that past offending and behaviour of a defendant should be heard by a Jury, because that behaviour is so clearly relevant to the case which is being tried," Rau said.

President-elect of The Law Society of South Australia, Ralph Bonig, told Lawyers Weekly that he could not see any occasion where it is appropriate for juries to hear details of an accused's past prior to sentencing.

"The sentencing phase remains the most appropriate time to hear details of prior criminal behaviour," Bonig said.

He also added that any such proposal could undermine the presumption of innocence for a defendant.

"The difficulty of such a proposal is that it has the potential to undermine the ability of a jury to make decisions based on the evidence presented before it," Bonig said. "The jury could be focused on past behaviour, and not on the evidence on which the alleged person has been charged."

Rau has said that the consultation process would include the Director of Public Prosecutions, the SA Bar Association, Law Society of SA and Legal Services Commission.

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