Thursday, 2 April 2020
Law Society condemns ACT Government’s removal of right to trial by jury
The ACT Law Society today condemned the ACT Government's removal of a defendant's right to a fair trial.
The Government has enacted legislation to remove the right of an accused to a jury trial. Proposed as part of their COVID-19 emergency response, the new provision was passed with the support of the Greens. Under this new legislation, judges will be empowered to order a trial to proceed by judge alone if they determine it is in the interests of justice; having heard from the parties, with the Court's decision to be final.
"The right to trial by Jury is a significant, longstanding right in our legal system that has been consistently observed by the High Court of Australia," said Michael Kukulies-Smith, the chair of the Society’s Criminal Law Committee.
"It is a fundamental tenet of the rule of law, and has been enshrined in legal systems since before Magna Carta.
"The Government's new scheme is fundamentally unsound and misguided."
The Society acknowledges that there is a need to reform existing laws and processes to allow the continued functioning of the courts during the current COVID-19 health emergency.
Other jurisdictions have found ways to manage this without abrogating the rule of law. Last week, the New South Wales Parliament passed emergency legislation that included amendments to the availability of judge alone trials in NSW.
Fundamental to the NSW scheme is that no judge alone trial can occur unless the accused agrees to proceed by judge alone. The NSW legislation ensures that the accused’s right to a trial by jury is protected.
The ACT Government has inexplicably opted to take an approach that is radically different to the NSW solution, despite the Chief Minister repeatedly emphasising the importance of the ACT taking action that is consistent with NSW at this time.
The Law Society is alarmed that the ACT Government has taken this action, when NSW has already proved that legislation like this can be enacted without abrogating rights.
Responses to this release:
- Cassandra Morgan, "Canberrans lose right to trial by jury during coronavirus 'emergency period'", The Canberra Times, 2 April 2020.
- "Law society slams ‘misguided’ jury changes", City News, 2 April 2020.
- Mornings With Adam Shirley, ABC Radio, 3 April 2020. [audio file, 10:03]
- ABC News, ABC Radio, 3 April 2020. [audio file, 0:51]
- ABC News with Elizabeth Byrne, ABC Radio, 3 April 2020. [audio file, 0:43]
- ACT Bar Association, Press Release, "ACT Bar Association condemns the temporary abrogation of the right to trial by jury in the ACT", 3 April 2020.
- Cassandra Morgan, "Canberra legal community condemns 'terrible' loss of right to jury trials during coronavirus 'emergency period'", The Canberra Times, 3 April 2020.
- WIN News, 3 April 2020. [video file, 1:45]
- Tom Lowrey and Dan Bourchier, "Coronavirus demands quick action, but the ACT Government will be dealing with the fallout for years", ABC News, 5 April 2020.
- Tony Zhang, "‘A great concern’: LCA on ACT removing right to trial by jury", Lawyers Weekly, 6 April 2020.
- Dominic Giannini, "“Fundamentally unsound and misguided”, ACT removes right to trial by jury," City News, 6 April 2020.
- Ian Bushnell, "Democracy and free press must not be casualties of coronavirus war", City News, 6 April 2020.
- Jon Stanhope, "Progressive government? You must be joking", City News Letters, 7 April 2020.
- Sol Dolor, "Legal bodies slam ACT’s suspension of right to trial by jury amid coronavirus crisis", Australasian Lawyer, 7 April 2020.