Defendants could lose out

CHANGES to Queensland’s justice system could clog up the courts and deny defendants the right to a trial by jury, according to Maryborough lawyer Travis George.

Reforms to court jurisdictions, coupled with Legal Aid Queensland’s recent belt-tightening measures, mean defendants are being denied their basic rights, Mr George says.

“Up until the 1st of January, if a person was charged with an indictable offence they were likely to receive some sort of Legal Aid,” he said.

“Now that’s not the case.

It’s harder for people to get Legal Aid now because there has to be a serious risk of a lengthy term of imprisonment.”

Mr George said the changes would mean people ineligible for aid who wanted to plead not guilty to an offence would have to go through a more lengthy committal process.

“It’s going to clog the system up if people say they are not guilty and then have to run their case as a self-represented litigant.”

The changes to Legal Aid will affect regional Queenslanders more than their city counterparts – the new guidelines will not apply to cases heard in the Brisbane and Ipswich Magistrates Courts.

New legislation intending to streamline the civil and criminal justice system would also work against defendants, Mr George said.

Expected to come into effect from July 1, the legislation is based on the review findings of Supreme Court Justice Martin Moynihan.

The draft legislation will mean more cases are heard in the Magistrates Court and defendants will be “encouraged” to plead guilty at the earliest opportunity.

Under the legislation, some indictable offences will have to be finalised in the Magistrates Court.

“In some cases it will take away a person’s right to trial by jury,” Mr George said.

“The defendant should be allowed to know the case against them and test the case against them before going to trial. This right is going to be removed by removing committal hearings.”

Solicitors will not be able to ask questions freely during cross-examination but will have to apply to cross-examine a witness and provide a list of questions to be approved by the magistrate.

Queensland Law Society criminal law section chairman Glen Cranny said the society also had concerns about the loss of the accused person’s right to trial by jury.

“The society is participating in the consultation process and will be submitting a lengthy submission on the Bill,” he said.

The legislation can be viewed on the Department of Justice and Attorney-General website and comments can be made up to January 31.

Email them to legalpolicysubmissions@justice.qld.gov.au or post to the Director, Strategic Policy, Department of Justice and Attorney-General, GPO Box 149, Brisbane Qld 4001.



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