Charge Bargaining

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SpeakersThompson Mr George; Debus Mr Bob
BusinessQuestions Without Notice


Page: 16993

    Mr THOMPSON: My question is directed to the Attorney General. What is the latest information on charge bargaining?

    Mr DEBUS: There is no doubt that charge bargaining, which is also referred to by many as plea bargaining, is practised in every common law jurisdiction in the world. If a plea of guilty is entered as a result of a so-called charge bargain, in almost every case victims of the crime will not need to testify. Avoiding the trauma of court proceedings can hasten a victim's rehabilitation. That has a practical benefit, especially for victims of sex offences or when the victims are children. That is why many victims of crime thoroughly support charge bargaining. However, the process of charge bargaining has to be fair and just and must consider the rights of the victim. As the House will be aware, I asked for a report from the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] about the charge bargaining process used in the recent sexual assault case at Villawood.

    I advise the House that I have received that report. It indicates that the Director of Public Prosecutions' own prosecution guidelines and policies were not followed adequately in that matter. The DPP has written directly to the victims in this case and the head of my department is in correspondence with the solicitor for the victims. However, I have received clear advice that discussing this matter further or releasing the report now may prejudice the Crown's appeal. I must obviously accept that advice: there is no public interest in a report that may prejudice that appeal. In the meantime, the solicitor for the victims will be briefed and provided with a full report once the Crown's appeal is completed.

    I view this case with the greatest concern. That is why I can today advise the House that this week I commissioned the Hon. Gordon Samuels, QC, to conduct a three-month review of charge bargaining in this State and its application by the DPP. Mr Samuels has been provided with a copy of the DPP's report. I have asked Mr Samuels—who, honourable members will know, is a former Governor of this State, a former judge of the Court of Appeal, a former chairman of the Law Reform Commission and a person of the highest intellectual capacity and personal compassion—to commence his review at once. In analysing the way in which charge bargaining applies, the review will focus particularly upon the necessity of ensuring adequate consultation with victims. Mr Samuels will also report upon the adequacy of safeguards to ensure that charges and agreed facts reflect the criminality of relevant offences and that they permit a sentencing judge to be satisfied that the policy and the guidelines have been complied with.

    The report will, of course, include recommendations for any necessary amendments to current practices. If the former Governor concludes that legislation is needed, of course the Government will introduce it. The Government will restructure also the board of management of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions [DPP] in order to provide additional rigour to the management, administration and financial accountability of that office. This board will help the office do its job. Today I can announce that two independent appointees will join the DPP board of management; people with significant expertise in public sector administration and financial accountability. While there must not be public comment that could undermine the appeal about which I have spoken, in his report to me the Director of Public Prosecutions said:
        There is no evidence of any general or widespread failure by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to comply with guidelines. This—
    that is to say, the Villawood case—
        is but one of over 8000 cases prosecuted by [the DPP] in a year.
    The measures announced today are designed to improve the legal process and charge bargaining while the appeal in the Villawood matter continues. While the Samuels inquiry is ongoing, and pending any recommendations Mr Samuels may make, two independent management advisers are to be appointed to the board of management of the DPP. That board will have a role in assisting the DPP with budgetary and structural issues. Its advice will be relied upon by both the DPP and the Government to develop future directions for best practice in managing the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. This is a course of action that retains integrity and independence for the DPP and provides for the best outcome in the accountability of the DPP.