Second Reading: Jury Directions Bill 2015

Mr HIBBINS (Prahran) — I rise to speak on the Jury Directions Bill 2015. I will be brief in my remarks on this bill. The Greens support this bill; however, we have concerns regarding the non-mandatory nature of some of the jury directions. 

I will go straight to the point of those concerns: whilst the new jury directions on sexual offences and family violence will on the one hand help to remove prejudice and misconceptions about victims, the Federation of Community Legal Centres has raised strong concerns with us relating to the non-mandatory nature of some of these directions.

The bill fails to address the federation's concern about the removal of mandatory requirements for judges to direct members of juries in their thinking about consent and what the accused believed. The mandatory requirement for such directions was removed under the Crimes Amendment (Sexual Offences and Other Matters) Act 2014 and the then shadow and now current Attorney-General supported this move even though other Labor MPs noted that this ran counter to the recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission's Sexual Offences — Final Report of 2004 and its jury directions review with respect to sexual offences.

The Greens believe that directions on family violence and sexual offences by trial judges should be mandatory, rather than being reliant on defence counsel requesting a trial judge direct the jury on family violence matters. That said, we feel that given this bill has come before the house, we must also keep in mind other steps that will enable the law to respond appropriately to women who kill partners in the context of family violence and their ability to use the defence of self-defence. Specialised family violence training and cultural awareness education for legal professionals, including prosecutors, defence counsel and judges, could be employed. Such training should include the relevance of family violence evidence to elements of self-defence.

Steps could be taken to reduce the levels of female defendants being charged. In some cases in which women kill to defend themselves from family violence, the Office of Public Prosecutions could consider charging the defendant with manslaughter from the outset rather than murder, which may make it more likely that they would go to trial on the basis of pleading self-defence. Legal professionals should be prompted to use expert evidence about family violence and to use experts who have extensive, specialised knowledge of family violence.

As well as legislative improvements in the area of sexual offences being required, the Federation of Community Legal Centres and the Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault Forum say this must be done in tandem with ongoing, appropriately funded community education programs, primary prevention initiatives and funding of community-based legal services and sexual assault survivor advocacy organisations. As well as these initiatives we need ongoing education of judges, defence counsel, prosecutors and police about the social context of sexual assault.

We could also look at the development of clear definitions and examples to be included in the Crimes Act 1958 and also used in training materials for judges, legal officers, police and advocates. We could empower judges to disallow questioning of a complainant that is unduly intrusive, humiliating, intimidating or overbearing.

That said, the Greens support this bill, but we have concerns regarding the non-mandatory nature of jury directions. We will be raising those issues further through Sue Pennicuik, a member for Southern Metropolitan Region in the other place, who is our justice spokesperson. We will take up those issues in the other place should the bill reach the upper house.