Monday, 2 June 2008

McClelland: Movement on Uniform Evidence Act?

Attorney-General Robert McClelland last week introduced legislation to progress initiatives on the agenda of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General.

The Evidence Bill – based on a Model Bill adopted by SCAG following law reform commission recommendations – supports the uniformity of evidence laws in Australia, which will improve efficiencies for the courts, legal practitioners and business.

It also includes a number of amendments to help vulnerable witnesses to give evidence, such as promoting the use of narrative evidence and changes to better control cross-examination to disallow improper questioning.

"These reforms will make it easier for children and people with an intellectual disability to give evidence before the courts. This is of particular significance where the child witness has been the victim of an offence," said Mr McClelland.

The implementation of the Model Bill will also give greater flexibility to courts considering evidence of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders on their traditional laws and customs. These amendments will make this evidence easier to provide and more appropriately reflects how knowledge of traditional laws and customs is recorded. It will not change the circumstances in which such evidence is relevant.

"I congratulate the New South Wales Government for having already introduced the Model Evidence Billand acknowledge the other jurisdictions who are also preparing to legislate. I look forward to continuing to work with my State and Territory colleagues on this and other harmonisation initiatives," said Mr McClelland.

The Government will be giving further consideration to the provisions of the Model Bill dealing with confidential relationships, in the context of the Government's response to the ALRC Report on Privilege tabled earlier this year, and of the Government's implementation of its election commitments on journalist shield laws.



COMMENT

The key to the Uniform Evidence Act will be having one uniform Act- and getting all the States singing from the same song sheet. I have likened this exercise before to that of herding cats. Let's see if it can happen. Long overdue.

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