JUSTICE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT (CRIMINAL APPEALS) BILL 2019
Mr FREGON (Mount Waverley) (14:29:15): It is my pleasure to stand and speak a little bit on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Criminal Appeals) Bill 2019. I should probably start by acknowledging and showing our great thanks to the Attorney-General for her very dedicated work on not only this bill but also the Justice Legislation Amendment (Serious Offenders and Other Matters) Bill 2019 we had earlier in the week, which I also had the pleasure to speak a little bit on. It shows a commitment from the Andrews Labor government to strengthening our justice system to better protect our communities. Of course my community of Mount Waverley is the home to I guess the first door to our justice system for many of our justice workers, and that is the police academy that is in my area, which is, as we all know, currently completely full. We are putting 3135 police extra into the field. Obviously the justice system we are talking about today is the other end of the process from the police—also those workers do a great job—but this bill is about the appeals and the removal of de novo appeals from the Magistrates Court to the County Court. I should probably also refer quickly to some of my colleagues who have given some very, very educational offerings, especially the member for Broadmeadows, who referenced the usage of fear in our politics in regard to justice by some. I think it is worth saying that highlighting fear is not a solution to problems in our society that end up in our justice system. It is always better to think of ourselves as part of the solution, and spreading fear is not that, and if you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem. I guess I just sort of put that forward as something we should all remember. Also, the member for Oakleigh gave a very good contribution, and the member for Essendon made a little family connection to the benefits of a working justice system, which was very interesting to hear. Essentially the bill in front of us has two halves. The first half, as I said, is to abolish de novo appeals. This measure passed the Assembly previously but lapsed, so here we are again. Let us hope it has a speedy passage through the other part of the house, presuming that we can pass it through this one; I think we probably will be able to. The other half introduces a second or subsequent right of appeal. This is designed to, in very, very narrow circumstances, modernise the way our system deals with miscarriages of justice. A de novo appeal, as others have said, is in effect retrying the whole case all over again. I think not only is this costly in time and resources for our courts but it also can, as others have said, be very stressful for those victims or people related to the crimes in other ways. I think this should be reduced. If I hark back to earlier in the week when we were talking about serious offenders, there was a line of conversation coming from the other side about victims and being supportive of victims in every which way we can, which I think the government shares. Removing de novo appeals in this way is continuing that expression of consciousness that we are aware of the fact that victims will suffer by having to retell their stories again. I see this is a good step forward. It is also worth mentioning that we are the last state in the nation to have these de novo appeals. Currently any outcome of the Magistrates Court can be appealed to the County Court as a right without needing any particular grounds to do so, which I found surprising when I was researching this bill. Those matters must be heard as new or de novo proceedings. Under the reforms these appeals will be replaced by appeals conducted essentially by reviewing transcripts, and further evidence will only be admitted when it is in the interests of justice and passes that test. This test of being in the interests of justice will act as a deterrent to sentence appeals lodged by those offenders who are just trying their arm to see if maybe, if it works, it will be better for them. I think wasting the court’s time, the court’s resources and the state’s resources for someone who is just trying to get one over us does not serve anyone, including the person who is trying it on, I would argue. So not only are we removing de novo appeals from the Magistrates Court, but we are also reintroducing the reform to abolish the de novo appeals from final orders made by the family division of the Children’s Court. These reforms, it should be noted, are supported by the Children’s Court and the Department of Health and Human Services. It will spare children months of uncertainty and instability in waiting for a full rehearing of the case. I think sometimes when we consider our justice system and we look at the front page of the Herald Sun now and then and see cases where people raise eyebrows about this or that, that is fine—the media is there to shine a light on things that might not make sense or stand out—but I think it is important for us to understand that 99.9 per cent of cases that are tried in our courts go without the blinking of an eye. Our judiciary, clerks and administration work tirelessly, work very long hours, to do the job—their part of our system—just like our police do in their part of our system. We of course are here in the other part. I think it is also worth mentioning that, in regard to sentencing decisions, I am aware that in cases where the average Joe Blow is put into a court for a moot court situation—and this has been done a number of times by bar associations around the world, but I believe here as well—and they try those cases pretty well as they have done in court, although the popular media tends to say our judges do not do enough, in nearly all cases where that retrial is done we end up with the average Joe Blow actually giving a more lenient sentence than the judge did. I think that would surprise some people, but it is worth considering. There is another part to this bill, and that is in regard to the mercy test. At the moment there is the channel of being able to go to the Attorney-General in very rare cases. This will be changed in order to go to a panel of judges instead. Victoria is the last jurisdiction in Australia to have these de novo appeals, and we must protect our victims when possible and when sensible from having to relive whatever experiences they have been through. We support them in that way, we support them in our policing, we support them in our counselling services, and this is the right thing to do. That is why we are all here—to represent our communities for their safety. With that in mind, I commend the bill to the house.