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‘Veil of mystery’ on NSW pardon laws to be lifted
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‘Veil of mystery’ on NSW pardon laws to be lifted

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After almost a millennium of use, a monarchist power to pardon offenders for crimes committed will be made more transparent in NSW.

The secretive “royal prerogative of mercy” has been exercised under a “veil of mystery” that the Attorney-General Mark Speakman said “might have been appropriate under Edward the Confessor in the eleventh century.”

According to the NSW government’s justice department, “the purpose of the power is to temper the rigidity of the law by dispensing clemency in appropriate circumstances.”

Mr Speakman said “the royal prerogative of mercy is exercised in favour of offenders only in extraordinary cases.”


In its current state-based operation, the Attorney-General makes recommendations to the governor on whether an application for exercise of the royal prerogative is to be granted through a broad, discretionary lens.

Successful applications can result in pardons, reduced sentences or changes to punishment for an offender.

The reform will be used for cases where mercy is granted, enabling the Attorney-General to publish a document summarising successful petitions, with Mr Speakman noting that “it’s important that the government maintains a process that properly balances the principles of open justice with any need to protect the privacy of individuals.”

“If passed, new legislation, to be introduced by the end of this year, will make NSW the first jurisdiction in Australia to regularly share these details with the community,” he continued.

The document, to be published on the Department of Justice’s website will include the petitioner’s name, general information about the offence’s nature, the application’s outcome and brief reasons for the decision.

Limited information will also be provided with regard to failed mercy petitions.

Discretion will still be maintained by the Attorney-General, and allow for the release of information about petitions and outcomes to be refused, with Mr Speakman elaborating that “it wouldn’t be appropriate to publish details that would jeopardise the safety of a petitioner, prejudice an investigation or prosecution of an offence or reveal the identity of a police informant.”

Discretion will also allow the Attorney-General to invite any “registered victims of an offence to have their say on the petition” prior to a petition’s final outcome.

Changes will also be applied to applications made to the Governor “for review of conviction or sentence under section 76 of the Crimes (Appeal and Review) Act 2001,” a NSW government statement said.

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