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Thursday, 5 May 2016

Law Society opposes dilution of double jeopardy rule

The President of the ACT Law Society, Mr Martin Hockridge, today criticised moves by the ACT Government to unduly dilute the rule against double jeopardy in the ACT.

The ACT Government today introduced the Supreme Court Amendment Bill 2016 into the Legislative Assembly. The bill introduces a number of exceptions to the long standing rule against double jeopardy which operates to prevent a person who has been acquitted of an offence from being re-tried for the same offence.

“The rule against double jeopardy provides important protections to those prosecuted by the State and is fundamental to the fair administration of criminal justice,” said Mr Hockridge.

"The Law Society agrees that modification of the rule in regard to murder and other life penalty offences can happen with appropriate safeguards, but it is most disappointing that the ACT Government is upending this long held principle more extensively without clearly demonstrating why such a change is required in the ACT.

“The Society is concerned at the practical operation of a number of aspects of the bill.

“Some provisions will operate retrospectively to criminalise behaviour. The ability to apply for a trial in some circumstances extends to relatively low level offences. A person may be retried on the basis of a tainted trial – even where the tainted behaviour relates to a third party and not to the conduct of the accused person. The prosecution is allowed extended time periods to pursue the retrial proceedings and the costs provisions of the bill could operate unfairly to the accused who has been acquitted.

“Further, if the prosecution can open an investigation on the basis of fresh and compelling evidence, similar provisions should also apply to ensure such evidence that may prove innocence is brought to the attention of a convicted person to allow them to challenge their convictions.”