Jury Directions Bill 2012 (05.03.2013)

Written on the 12 March 2013

 I too am pleased to be able to rise this afternoon to speak on the Jury Directions Bill 2012. As other members on the government side have indicated, we are very pleased that those opposite are not opposing the bill.



The government when in opposition made an election commitment to undertake reform to jury directions. There were significant elements that were causing unnecessary court delays, and a number of unnecessary appeals were contributing to those court delays. This was a pre-election commitment undertaken by the Attorney-General, who has had an enormous amount of input into this area. He has done an exceptional job in discharging his responsibility as Attorney-General. Along with Mr Finn I would like to commend the Attorney-General for the significant amount he has achieved since we have been in government.


As others have said, this bill lays out changes to jury directions in Victoria, which have become unnecessarily long, complex, voluminous and uncertain. These are all terms that have been mentioned today to describe jury directions. Anyone who has been a member of a jury would know it is sometimes a very daunting, intimidating and complex process, as others have highlighted. As laypeople, jurors do not necessarily understand the legal system. But it is very important that we have a very strong legal and justice system as a part of our democratic society. This bill will allow a simplification of this process and enable people to better participate.



Mr O'Brien, in his former role as a barrister, is exceptionally well versed in the area of court and legal matters; he has a particularly good understanding of this area. He outlined very clearly to members the process of what this bill will achieve. I concur with Mr O'Brien's comments in relation to the framework of jury directions pertaining to criminal trials.



The bill will reduce the complexity of jury directions and simplify and clarify issues that juries must determine in criminal trials. It will simplify and clarify the duties of a trial judge in giving jury directions in criminal trials. It will clarify that one of the duties of legal practitioners appearing in criminal trials is to assist the trial judge in deciding which jury direction should be given.



The bill will also assist the trial judge to give jury directions in a manner that is as clear, brief, simple and comprehensible as possible and permit the trial judge to answer questions from the jury about the meaning of the phrase 'beyond reasonable doubt'. That is also important. This underpins our legal and justice system; it very much forms a part of what our legal and justice system is based on. Finally, the bill will provide for simplified directions in relation to post-offence conduct.


I think this is a very good move. I understand that the bill has support from a range of people within the legal sector. It implements the reforms arising from the Victorian Law Reform Commission report that was initiated some time ago and is also a result of consultation with others.



As somebody who in recent years has been on a jury -- not in a criminal trial but a civil matter -- I can understand that for many people the jury process is daunting and overwhelming. If we can simplify the process for those people who participate in this very important and responsible role, this is a good thing. I would like to commend the bill to the house. I am pleased that those opposite are not opposing this bill.



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