Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Paying to prove your

innocence is never right. It is an even worse idea in the Magistrates' Court. Apparently the idea is that if the police decide to prosecute you then you will, guilty or innocent, be required to pay your own costs in the Magistrates' Court.
I do not know why our state government thought this would be a good idea - apart from believing it would "save" $1.6m a year. It will not of course - but it will cause endless complications and miscarriages of justice.
Our Magistrates' Court deals with minor offences - driving, petty theft, minor assault, disputes, possession and other offences are dealt with there. There are limits on the penalties a magistrate can impose. They also hear the preliminaries for cases which will go to a higher court - District, Federal, Supreme etc. Initial applications for bail are heard there.
I do not know what percentage of cases are defended in the Magistrates' Court but I suspect there are relatively few. Representation by a member of the legal profession will be greater than that, especially where someone is looking at a custodial sentence or the loss of a licence to drive when their livelihood depends on it. Legal aid is available to some and automatically available to indigenous Australians.
It leaves a group of law abiding Australians potentially without legal representation. They may be found not to have broken any law but they will still be left with court costs they may not be able to pay and should, if they have done nothing wrong, not have to pay.
The proposed amendment to the law has been added to the Budget. The amendment has gone to the Upper House and it has been rejected as not being a "money matter". It has been returned, amended yet again, to the Lower House. It will be reviewed tomorrow.
If, despite being opposed by the Opposition and the legal profession, it becomes law then justice in this state will be ill-served.
There is disquiet in the Attorney-General's department as well. They were asked if it could be done, not whether justice would be done.

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