SUPREME COURT (VIDEO LINK) AMENDMENT BILL
Debate resumed from an earlier hour.
The Hon. ELISABETH KIRKBY [5.10]: When the debate was adjourned before question time I was bringing to the attention of the House the Australian Democrats' second concern about the practicality of this scheme. One question is whether the video link technology will be available. When the Metropolitan Remand Centre is moved to Silverwater, and at Mulawa, the facility will not be available. Another matter is how the proposal ignores the realities of bail applications. The Crown often opposes bail and this material, in the form of depositions of the committal witnesses' statements and evidence to be given by a police officer, often is not disclosed to the applicant until the day of the bail hearing. If an applicant is unrepresented, the material will have to be faxed, and he will require time to consider the implications, and to respond. We should remember that it is a regrettable fact that a large percentage of the prison population is functionally illiterate, and that delays in processing bail applications will be considerable. If the applicant is represented, the material is presented to his or her legal representative.
The bulk of bail applicants are represented by solicitors from the Legal Aid Commission, who may have clients in separate gaols and therefore will not be able to represent every client at every institution. The alternative scheme, where listing for bail is dependent upon the gaol in which the applicant is, could cause injustices to applicants who are not dealt with according to the time of their application but according to the gaol in which they are held. The separation of the legal aid solicitor from the client in gaol therefore has to be seen as a distinct disadvantage. The present practice is for the solicitor to have a conference in the cells with the client to get instructions in relation to the Crown's grounds for opposing bail. Furthermore, the giving of evidence by video link depersonalises the issues at stake. This fact has been acknowledged by even those persons who support the use of video link evidence in sexual assault trials. It may reduce the applicant's chances of being granted bail if the judge cannot assess the applicant as fully as he could if he were in the dock of the courtroom.
The final concern of the Australian Democrats was that the trial - I mean the trial of the video link technology - could be allowed to continue for three years without review. Clearly a shorter trial period would suffice. This led to the amendment in another place to the effect that the review would take place after 18 months. I believe that was a proper amendment. In conclusion I point out that this legislation will deal with people who have never been convicted of an offence; people who are on bail or on remand awaiting a hearing of the charge against them. Though I have these reservations about this scheme, I believe that in order to make it clear to the public and to the Government exactly how this video technology will work under these conditions, the trial should be permitted to go ahead. I am glad that the review will take place after 18 months and that we shall not have to wait three years before a full review is conducted. With those reservations I support the legislation.
The Hon. VIRGINIA CHADWICK (Minister for Education and Youth Affairs, and Minister for Employment and Training), [5.14], in reply: I thank honourable members for their contributions to the debate and for their support of the pilot program. A number of issues have been raised which I will seek to clarify. The Hon. R. D. Dyer raised the question of the detail of the procedure to be followed when an applicant seeks to appear before the court in person. I indicate that the details of the procedure have yet to be finalised with the Supreme Court. However, there is a need to ensure that such interim applications do not delay the determination of the bail review. For this reason it is likely that the application will be dealt with in chambers on an ex parte basis. Of course, once the details of the procedure have been determined by the court, they will be made widely known to the legal profession and all other interested parties. It may be that the procedure initially adopted will be refined along the way, but that is the purpose of having a pilot program.
Another matter of concern to the honourable member was the status of the regulations that are to accompany this legislation. I am advised that once this bill passes through both Houses, departmental officers will engage in further consultation with communication specialists to determine the exact technical specifications of the equipment we will need to comply with in order to meet the standards set in the bill. Honourable members will have the opportunity to scrutinise the regulations through the usual channels of the Regulation Review Committee and the operation of the Subordinate Legislation Act. As to the type of equipment that will be available, I confirm that there will be a direct telephone link between the court and the remand centre, available for use by legal practitioners both inside and outside the court. The facility will be available beyond those times at which bail link proceedings are being conducted. Facsimile facilities will also be available within the courtroom to allow access to documentation at both ends of the electronic link.
In respect of the privacy of communication between lawyer and client, it is recognised that this is an essential element of the legal adviser's capacity to properly represent his or her client. It is not, however, a matter that is readily amenable to control by legislation. For this reason the bill contains the catch-all clause that the court may order the applicant to appear in the courtroom where it is in the interests of justice to do so. A specific example of how this clause will operate is where a legal adviser has been unable to secure access to his or her client. It is expected that the situation will be brought to the attention of the court and that the court would make the necessary orders to rectify the problem or have the applicant brought before the court. The Hon. Elisabeth Kirkby referred to some reservations that the Law Society raised. I indicate to the honourable member that Mr Griffiths, when he was Minister for Justice, discussed these matters with the Law Society, and it was agreed that although the approach of the Government and the Law Society may be different, they are in agreement on the fundamental issues. Finally, I should like to extend to all honourable members an invitation that Mr Griffiths made in another place that once bail link facilities are in place and the pilot scheme is ready to begin, all honourable members with an interest in this project or in the use of technology in the courtroom generally are encouraged to examine for themselves the bail link program in operation. I commend the bill to the House.
Motion agreed to.
Bill read a second time and passed through remaining stages.