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Victorian lawyers warn of endless litigation

Victorian lawyers have warned of rising court costs and endless litigation should double jeopardy be eliminated in the state.

user iconThe New Lawyer 14 September 2010 The Bar
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Victorian lawyers have warned of rising court costs and endless litigation should double jeopardy be eliminated in the state. 

The legal rule of double jeopardy in Victoria will beoverhauled, allowing some people to be tried for the same crime, if the opposition wins power at November’s state election.  

Under a Ted Baillieu-led government, a person committed of a serious crime could face a second trial if they admit guilt, if new DNA evidence is found, or if a key witness confesses to giving false evidence. 

The double jeopardy rule, which applies in Victoria, stops a person being tried more than once for the same crime. But the state's Attorney General, Robert Clark, has said occasion do arise when a retrial should be allowed, thereby flagging a change.

The peak body representing the Victorian legal profession has asked the state opposition to “exercise caution” in considering the proposal to revoke the law, should it win the election.  

The Law Institute of Victoria warned the change couldlead to slipshod justice. 

“The rule ensures members of the public brought to trial can be sure that once their case is decided, and if they are proven innocent, they can get on with their lives instead of being open to endless retrials,” LIV president Steven Stevens said. 

Stevens said the rule also ensures that police and prosecutors cannot “repeatedly put forward shoddy, cobbled together cases safe in the knowledge that if they get it wrong this time they can simply put forward another shoddy case whenever they like”. 

According to the Victorian legal profession, the current double jeopardy laws protect those accused of crimes, but also give the alleged victims the assurance that they will have a final resolution. 

“The prospect of endless hearings and rehearings is of no benefit to anyone,” Stevens said. 

Stevens also said an end to double jeopardy would add significantly to the cost of justice in Victoria, which would come at the expense of areas of need such as legal aid for the public. 

“Contrary to some views, lawyers are not interested in endless court cases, they are interested in justice. An end to double jeopardy would open the floodgates ofrepeated legal proceedings which would drain our already overstretched courts. The Law Institute of Victoria is opposed to this.” 

Stevens called on the State government to maintain its support for double jeopardy and resist any temptation to get into a bidding war with the opposition in an attempt to “look tough on crime”. 

“The government is consistently on the record as supporting the principle of double jeopardy and the LIV calls on it to maintain this principled position,” Stevens said. 

“The principle of double jeopardy is also part of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities introduced by the Brumby government and the LIV expects thegovernment will maintain its support for this important legal principle.”    

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