Law reform in the spotlight

Attorney-General Robert Clark MP in the crowd at the Law Oration 2012

Attorney-General Robert Clark MP in the crowd at the Law Oration 2012

Victorian Attorney-General, the Honourable Robert Clark MP, was in the crowd at last year’s Law Oration. This year it’s his turn to take to the stage to share his views on law reform in Victoria. Book today to make sure you nab a seat at the Law Oration 2013 on 3 October and encourage your colleagues and the people in your local community to do the same. Everyone can participate in law reform and this event is your chance to better understand the issues and join the debate.

In the meantime, this guest blog by the Victorian Law Reform Commission will bring you up-to-date with what’s happening in law reform, and the role of the Commission, the Attorney-General and the community in this process.

Law reform for all Victorians

Anyone who comes into contact with the law knows that the law is not perfect. Sometimes laws can be out-of-date, inefficient, unduly complex, or out of touch with the lives of real people.

Values change. Community standards change. Technology alters our lives in ways once unimaginable. Sometimes, laws don’t do the job they were supposed to do. When that happens, the law needs to be reformed.

Over the last ten years we have seen changes to the laws around adoption of children conceived through assisted reproductive technology, abortion decriminalised in Victoria, a massive increase in the use of public and private surveillance devices – and much more.

All of the above have been the subject of reviews by the Victorian Law Reform Commission, which is the main agency responsible for advising the Victorian government on law reform. The Victorian community had extensive input into all these reviews.

The Commission’s principal work is the fulfilment of references made by the Attorney-General. The Commission also undertakes community law reform projects, which it initiates, often based on suggestions from the public or community organisations. These projects are of more limited scope, as required by legislation.

The Commission has a full-time chair and seven part-time Commissioners, all people of great legal experience. They are supported by a staff of around 15, who provide research, policy, communications and administration support.

The Commission aims to be inclusive, independent and innovative.

Inclusive means that when the Commission reviews a law or set of laws, it doesn’t just consult lawyers and professionals, but consults widely with the community. We seek the views of all Victorians, regardless of where they live (city or country), age, cultural background or socio-economic status. Anyone can make a submission to the Commission, which will be taken into account when the recommendations are written.

Independent means that the Commission’s recommendations are independent of government, the courts and interest groups.

Innovative means being open to new ideas and approaches, while also staying aware of past approaches and solutions and knowing what works.

The Commission conducts reviews of civil and criminal law, across a wide range of areas, making recommendations that are relevant, succinct and achievable. However, the Commission does not itself change the law – that is up to the government of the day, which chooses when and how to act on the Commission’s recommendations.

The Commission recently completed a major reference on succession laws and delivered the report to the Attorney-General. Two other references are well advanced: our review of the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to be Tried) Act 1997 and jury empanelment. As part of our jury empanelment consultations, we are keen to hear from people who have been called for jury service, so if that is you, please email the Commission.

A community law reform report on birth registration and birth certificates was delivered to the Attorney-General in July 2013.

The Commission gives close attention to education, particularly in schools and in regional and rural Victoria. Presenters visit schools to speak on unit 3 of the VCE curriculum – law-making – and join with Victoria Law Foundation in the twice-yearly presentation of Law Talks to rural and regional year 11 and 12 students.

The Commission’s work contributes to building a fair, just, inclusive and accessible legal system for all Victorians. The Commission is governed by the Victorian Law Reform Commission Act 2000.

Find out more from the Victorian Law Reform Commission about how you can get involved in law reform, by suggesting a project or making a submission.

The Attorney-General’s oration will be followed by a QA session, facilitated by Victoria Law Foundation Chair the Honourable P.D. Cummins, who is also Chair of the Victoria Law Reform Commission. Book your seat at the oration on 3 October 2013.