Submission to the Victorian Law Reform Commission on committal proceedings

Aboriginal Australians legal status and laws Criminal law Courts Court procedures Australia

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) believes that committal proceedings are an essential component of the criminal process, because of their critical function in ensuring the right to a fair trial. Cross-examination of witnesses at this early stage in the proceedings provides a vital opportunity to facilitate disclosure and test the prosecution’s case. In light of entrenched systemic racism in the criminal justice system, committal proceedings play a particularly important role for Aboriginal people, as a check on improper charging and exercise of prosecutorial discretion.

Key Findings:

  • Committal proceedings for indictable offences should be retained in the Magistrates’ Court as a critical check and balance on improper charging and prosecutorial discretion, and to ensure that fair trial rights are protected.
  • The OPP should be involved in the investigation from an early stage, including through prosecutorial supervision of police charging and providing guidance in development of the Hand-Up Brief.
  • Committals should be treated as a specialist stream within the Magistrates’ Court and be run by magistrates with specific expertise in committal proceedings.
  • Unnecessary trauma for victims and witnesses should be safeguarded against through properly applied discretion to grant leave to cross-examine witnesses.
  • VALS should receive additional funding to recruit specialist lawyers to deal with indictable matters. If committal proceedings are abolished and replaced with pre-trial proceedings in a higher court, VALS would also require funding to cover the additional costs associated with the higher court.

In VALS experience, well managed committal proceedings serve a variety of purposes that are beneficial for all parties, including prosecution, defence and the Court. From the perspective of the defence, committals are essential for facilitating disclosure, thereby ensuring the right to a fair trial, including the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the nature and reason for the charge, as well as the right to have adequate time and facilities to prepare a defence.

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