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Amendments clear way for inclusive jury participation in the ACT

Amendments clear way for inclusive jury participation in the ACT

ACT jury provisions will be “among the most inclusive in Australia” Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay has said, after law reforms to modernise the jury process passed through the lower house this month.

Amendments to the ACT Juries Act 1967 will now ensure people with disabilities are not automatically exempt from jury duty.

The changes were part of a suite of law reforms that passed through the ACT Parliament in March.

“Disability should not stand in the way of someone being able to participate in jury service,” Mr Ramsay said.

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“Following these reforms, ACT jury provisions will be among the most inclusive in Australia.”

Among the package of justice law reforms are changes to provide better access to justice and improve efficiencies for the ACT’s courts and tribunals.

In a statement released last week, the AG said that amendments in the bill would also update the text for oaths and affirmations witnesses make in court to better reflect the ACT’s diverse population.

When giving their oath, a witness would be allowed to ‘promise’ rather than ‘swear’ to tell the whole truth.

“These changes are part of the government’s ongoing commitment to review and reform justice legislation to ensure the ACT has an accessible, fair and efficient justice system,” Mr Ramsay said.

The AG added that the reforms would deliver a better reporting process for complaints about judicial officers; and also help deliver fairer resolutions for energy and water complaints.

Improvements have also been made with respect to the coronial system in Canberra, to require that coroners consider how to minimise distress or offence to a person because of their cultural attitudes or spiritual beliefs. The reforms were hoped to reduce the number of invasive autopsies being performed, the AG said.

“Assisting coronial investigations to run smoothly helps to ensure the deceased and their families are treated with dignity and respect,” Mr Ramsay said.

“Sensitive consideration of cultural attitudes and spiritual beliefs throughout the coronial process will help to minimise distress to families during what is already a difficult time.”

Acknowledging certain systemic issues that had been identified by the legal community, the AG said that the reforms sought to address concerns expressed by the bench.

He referred specifically to recent decisions in the ACT Supreme Court about the criminal trial of Gabriela Woutersz and the wills and probate matter of Kaney v Rushton.

“These changes address issues raised by the judiciary in R v Woutersz and Kaney v Rushton and reflect our commitment to work with all stakeholders to improve our justice system,” Mr Ramsay said.

Changes to the Courts and Other Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 would also help to cut red tape, he added.

“The courts will now have a simplified process for taking evidence from overseas using audio-visual or audio links and the process for the enforcement of ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal orders has been clarified,” Mr Ramsay said.

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