Due to time restraint, Rod was unable to speak in support of the System Enhancements Bill. However, here are his words…
Today I rise to speak briefly on the Justice Legislation Amendment (System Enhancements and Other Matters) Bill 2021.
Due to the sheer number of amendments made to this bill, it is impossible for me to address all the changes sort. What I will say is that I believe that most of these amendments are necessary, relevant and are done so to enable our courts to keep functioning.
Most importantly this bill will reduce the backlog of adjourned, delayed and/or unheard matters in our courts.
I understand the importance of keeping our justice system up and running. Not only to protect Victorians but to ensure our courts are conducted fairly, justly and in a timely manner.
Over the past year, Victorian courts, lawyers, barristers and other legal services have all benefited from using the temporary COVID-19 emergency measures.
What may have taken ten or more years to transfer the entire legal profession online was undertaken in a few short months. This is to be commended and I would like to acknowledge these individuals for being open to adjusting to working online so quickly; conducting court online is no easy task.
Throughout the pandemic e-filing, electronic signing, remote witnessing of documents and online court proceedings have all allowed our courts to continue functioning. Most importantly, it has minimised the backlog of cases and enabled Victorians to get the legal assistance they require and their matters resolved.
This bill will extend these measures for another 18 months and make those that have worked well permanent such as streamlining bail procedures and allowing electronic signing of documents. It will also extend certain measures to other portfolios such as child protection, corrections, youth justice, local government systems and parliamentary committees.
In addition, it will make amendments to the time severed scheme for infringement fines to create an administrative mechanism to deal with time served applications for infringement fines.
Victoria’s Magistrates’ Courts have been under the pump since before COVID-19 and the increase in infringement fine matters, such as traffic fines or on the spot fines for minor criminal offences, has only continued to rise since.
In March last year, at the beginning of the pandemic, Victoria Fines indicated 140,000 matters needed to be heard in either the Magistrates’ or County Court. This is on top of infringement fines issued by Victoria Police and other matters which have been adjourned or delayed in our justice system.
This new administrative mechanism, in addition to other amendments, will reduce this pile-up and enable our Courts to get back on track.
I understand the concerns some individuals have about amending our Justice System and the importance of maintaining the separation between our judicial system and government. While these concerns are valid, especially around permanent changes to our justice system, I believe these measures are necessary, valid and considered.
As many in this house have discussed previously, COVID-19 has shown us that improving the flexibility of our court processes is critical.
It is for these reasons that I commend this bill to the house.