What changes did the reforms make and why?
The main aim of the reforms is to resolve serious criminal matters earlier, enabling courts, police, forensic services and prosecutors to focus their resources where they are most needed and ease the pressure on the state’s court system. If an offender is going to plead guilty, a better outcome is achieved for victims, witnesses, the courts and all parties involved in the criminal justice system, if they do so as soon as possible. Similarly, the early identification of matters which cannot proceed is in the interest of all parties.
The intention is that more detailed information be provided to a defendant and the Magistrates Court at an earlier point; specifically, the preparation of a preliminary brief by police and a charge determination by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) before the commencement of committal proceedings. A charge determination is a decision by the DPP as to the appropriate charge, based on an assessment of the evidence in the preliminary brief.
Although major indictable offences are prosecuted by the DPP, police retain carriage of the matter until such time as this charge determination is made.
Previously, a major indictable matter was commenced by police, but would be transferred to the DPP after the first court appearance, with very little evidence available to assess the case. However, the police would continue to gather the evidence and would provide this to the DPP. In addition, a date would be set for the prosecution to provide the evidence to the defendant, which was usually six weeks after the first appearance together with a date for the defendant to answer the charge (another four weeks later).
In the majority of cases, the initial six week adjournment period was not sufficient, meaning both the prosecution and defence would attend court on multiple occasions to seek numerous adjournments to enable more time to collect, and to consider the evidence in the case.
In addition, matters could be sent on to the District or Supreme Court before they were ready for trial, and the process of seeking multiple adjournments to enable completion of the prosecution brief of evidence would continue. In the District or Supreme Court, there was a very limited obligation on the defendant to identify matters that were in dispute. The reforms aim to reduce the number of court appearances during the committal stage. Magistrates are now able set the adjournment time for the preliminary brief and charge determination, based on the time required for each individual matter as advised by police. In addition, under the reform, prior to a matter being arraigned in the Supreme or District Court both the prosecution and defence must now file case statements. This is designed to narrow the matters in dispute.
The Major Indictable Reform review and Terms of Reference
Retired Supreme Court Justice, the Hon Brian Martin AO QC has been appointed to conduct the independent review. Mr Martin is investigating the operation and impact of the first 12 months of the reforms. View the Terms of Reference.
Mr Martin has been asked to inquire into and report to the Attorney-General on:
- What efficiencies, if any, have been realised as a result of the reform
- Whether the reform has achieved the intended outcomes, as stated by the former Attorney-General
- Whether there are there any factors that are, or have been, an impediment to the reform achieving the intended outcomes
- Any relevant interstate reform regarding how major indictable matters are dealt with in the criminal justice system
- His recommendations to improve how major indictable matters are dealt with in the criminal justice system (though the operation of the Criminal Procedure Act 1921) to realise the efficiencies sought by the reform
- Any other recommendations arising from his inquiry.
Community and expert feedback is being sought to inform Mr Martin’s inquiry.