: DUAO - Vol 41(3)

DUAO - 2016 - Vol 41(3)

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Developments around the country

DownUnderAllOver is a round-up of legal news from both State and federal jurisdictions, and contains topical articles and short pieces from Alternative Law Journal committees around the country.

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Three-tiered VCAT fee structure commenced in July

Robert Corr
Victoria

The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (‘VCAT’) was established as a low-cost alternative to the courts for resolving civil disputes, but in recent years its fee increases have been criticised for undermining that mission.

In 2013, fees for consumer cases increased from $39 to $132 and the number of applications fell by 15 per cent. Gerard Brody of the Consumer Law Action Centre said, ‘If the claim is less than a couple of thousand dollars then you might think the fee, together with the time involved with having to go to VCAT, is not worth the effort.’

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 213

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Corrections Victoria failure to bring prisoners to court continues

Robert Corr
Victoria

Victorian courts have sharply criticised Corrections Victoria for its failure to bring prisoners to court for hearings, but the agency continues to breach the rights of those in its custody.

Victoria Legal Aid said that 455 Magistrates’ Court matters were affected in the first seven weeks of 2016, with some prisoners being unable to apply for bail or missing assessments for community-based sentences.

The Herald Sun reported that Corrections Victoria has been fined 650 times since 2013 for holding people in custody rather than bringing them to their scheduled court appearances, including over $110 000 in fines in the first half of 2016. 

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 214

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Corruption and Crime Commission: abuse of power or technicality?

Steven Castan
Western Australia

Much consternation and controversy has arisen due to a landmark ruling of the WA Court of Appeal whereby more than 50 past prosecutions by WA’s corruption watchdog, the Corruption and Crime Commission (‘CCC’), have been put in doubt. 

The Court of Appeal decision ruled that the WA Corruption and Crime Commission had no powers to prosecute a police officer in the Magistrates Court. A former police officer, based in Broome, was originally charged with assaults on detainees in March and April 2013 and later resigned. The CCC charged and prosecuted him but he challenged whether the Commission had the power to prosecute him in the Magistrates Court and said that the charges were an abuse of process.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 214

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Inquests

Steven Castan
Western Australia

With the treatment of Indigenous prisoners, particularly youth offenders, in the news — with the horrific footage of detainee abuse in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre being shown on Four Corners — deaths in custody and treatment of Indigenous prisoners are back in the forefront for law reform advocates. August marks the two-year anniversary of the death of Ms Dhu, a Yamatji woman who died in a Port Hedland lockup where she was ‘cutting out’ fines. The family are still calling for justice and for measures to prevent more deaths in custody as they await the outcome of the inquest that was held earlier this year. Ms Dhu’s family have renewed calls for the release of shocking footage that was played to the court and general public who attended the inquest. On the final day of the four-week inquest, Coroner Ros Fogliani ruled that releasing the footage into the public domain could cause further trauma and distress to Ms Dhu’s family. Her uncle, Shaun Harris, stated that the public had a right to view the footage and believed, like the response to the Don Dale footage, it would elicit change. ‘It’s traumatising yes, but it still needs to be put out there’, he said. Death in Custody Watch Committee spokesman Marc Newhouse said, ‘Ultimately it’s about transparency and accountability and when things happen behind closed doors and the records of that are suppressed that’s greatly concerning. We hope that others in the community demand to see the footage and for that to be released publicly’. A spokesperson for the State Coroner said that the ruling would not be changed as the Coroner had heard legal arguments at the Inquest back in March. The Office of the WA Attorney General has indicated it will not interfere with the Coroner’s ruling and that if an interested party was dissatisfied with the Coroner’s ruling they should either apply to the Coroner or seek a review or appeal of the ruling.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 215

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The crusade against a French people’s lawyer

Stuart Russell
International

A 65-year-old lawyer is arrested at home at dawn, his home is searched by the police, he is involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital and then suspended from practice for three years. In China? No, in France. In one of the most spectacular and outrageous attacks against lawyers in French history, people’s lawyer Bernard Ripert of Grenoble suffered this massive indignity in May 2016.

Ripert was arrested, allegedly for ’intimidating a judge’, and then immediately placed in a psychiatric hospital against his will. An outspoken and courageous member of the Bar for more than 40 years, he was the quintessential people’s lawyer. Since 1976 he has acted pro bono for demonstrators, as well as conscientious objectors, the poor and the downtrodden. In previous years he represented the terrorist group Action Directe. He was well-known across the country for his unbridled attacks against injustice and arbitrariness, inside and outside the courtroom, and because of this many judges detested him, particularly in Grenoble.

(2016) 41(3) AltLJ 216

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