Open Courts Second Reading Speech

GRIMLEY (Western Victoria) (15:26:38): I also rise today to speak on the Open Courts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2019. With my background as a police officer I have spent many, many years in the courts. Sometimes we had good results and sometimes we had bad results, having dealt with many, many victims over this time. I can say that many of those victims unfortunately reported their assaults to police in the first instance and in the second instance felt assaulted by the courts, having gone through the sentencing and court process. So I welcome this sense of transparency and openness for the courts. Anything that will help and support victims along the way we are 100 per cent behind. Derryn Hinch’s Justice Party has long supported greater transparency within the legal system. Opening the courts up to greater public and media scrutiny can only have a positive impact on outcomes for victims. What I will say is that the courts are always open to the public. There are some occasions where they may be closed for specific reasons, but as a general principle if you want to go to the courts at any particular time, you can. You can just sit in and look at a case that may or may not interest you. The courts are open to the public most of the time.

The decisions made by the courts are made public. The classic example of this recently was with George Pell, as was mentioned previously. I was one of many, many thousands of people that watched with interest the proceedings unfold before our eyes. When I was sitting with somebody who did not really understand the court process it was fascinating to hear their feedback on the judge’s comments and remarks. They were not aware that this was how courts and judges make their decisions. Having been a police officer I was fully aware of the decisions, the principles and the sentencing practices, but it was interesting to hear another person’s perspective, someone who had no idea about the court system. In that regard, having that openness and transparency for the courts can only be a good thing. It can only educate the general public as to how these decisions are made, albeit sometimes insufficiently. I was in the Ballarat Magistrates Court recently, before I changed careers and came into this role. I sat through a magistrate’s hearing, and during his decision I found it fascinating that he made mention of the fact that community correction orders were a complete and utter failure of the system. For a magistrate to say that in a public forum I thought was quite remarkable, and it just indicates that more work needs to be done for our justice system to improve. As someone who has worked closely with victims and their families throughout the sentencing process, I can appreciate the empowering effect that more transparency within the courts can have. Like I said before, the decisions made by the courts are always public and the information should also be available to the public. The Open Courts and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2019 is the first step in implementing the legislative recommendations of the 2017 Open Courts Act review. This bill keeps in place laws that currently work, such as those which relate to the Children’s Court, while addressing deficiencies within other parts of the legal system. I also welcome the changes to broadcasting laws in the courts that this bill addresses.

As a result of these changes, high-profile cases will not be the only ones which are publicised, like I mentioned before. I welcome the basic changes to suppression orders that this bill achieves. For too long suppression orders have favoured the rights of perpetrators over victims. As Mr O’Donohue said before in relation to suppression orders, Victoria has over the past eight years been the state within Australia with the highest percentage of suppression orders granted, at around 50 per cent of all suppression orders. Perhaps we should look at changing our number plates from ‘The Education State’ to ‘The Suppression Order State’. The changes to suppression orders within this bill will ensure that victims of all crimes are legally able to share their story without being prosecuted alongside their perpetrator. Now that is empowering. However, there is still a lot of work to do for Victoria to move away from being the suppression order state. It is interesting to note for you those of you that follow the courts on social media that they have become far more transparent and open in publicising information based on their sentencing practices and principles.

I follow the Magistrates Court, the County Court and the Supreme Court on Twitter, and they have a number of tutorials, fact sheets and information available to the public which enlightens people like me about their practices. It goes back to the old adage that knowledge is power. The more knowledge you have of the practices and processes of the courts, the more you can understand the decisions that they come to. However, having said that, as we have heard more recently, it is hard to understand some of the decisions and sentences that have been handed down in more recent times. So, like I said, there is more work to be done. Whilst I support the majority of this bill, because I believe it is a step in the right direction, I note that it does not legislate all the recommendations of the review. Having said that, we will be supporting this bill.