COVID-19: TAS Government urged to make changes to ensure justice
16th Mar 2020
Changes need to be made to ensure the justice system can still operate fairly in light of the social distancing requirements caused by COVID-19, says the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).
“We completely support the implementation of appropriate public health measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mr Fabiano Cangelosi, Tasmanian State President, Australian Lawyers Alliance.
“To ensure the courts can continue to operate fairly, there are some changes the Government could quickly make to ensure defendants, witnesses and victims can still access justice.
“As a first step, the ALA calls upon the Tasmanian Government to urgently pass a bill allowing Tasmania Police to provide bail consent letters for defendants in the Magistrates Court of Tasmania proceedings. This will alleviate the need for large numbers of people to attend court during this critical stage of infection control for relatively minor matters, such as traffic offences, which can be dealt with appropriately when the risk has been reduced.
“Secondly, we ask the Government to allow defendants to elect to have the right to a jury trial waived, so that trials can proceed before a judge of the court.
“This will allow court cases to proceed in light of social distancing measures, and is an option the ALA supports more broadly.
“We would also like to see home detention considered as an option for older detainees who are on remand or have been sentenced. If criminal trials do not proceed for some months, over-crowding in prisons will become much worse.
“Even with the changes adopted, the social distancing measures that need to be put in place will likely cause significant injustice over the coming months because of a delay in the disposition of cases. These delays will add to an already badly backlogged court system.
“Once the courts are able to return to normal, adequate funding of the justice system will be required, particularly the Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania, to allow for more trials to be conducted.
“More funding would also support the reform needed of current criminal procedure, which has contributed to the systemic failures at the heart of the criminal trial backlog.”