POLICE DETENTION OF SUSPECTS
The Hon. R. D. DYER: I ask the Attorney General and Minister for Justice a question without notice. Is it the Government's intention to introduce during the current sittings legislation permitting police to detain suspects for what has been described as a reasonable period of time? Has the Government rejected the option of specifying a fixed maximum period of time for police questioning? Will the legislation contain any safeguards, such as the right of suspects to have a legal representative present at the time of questioning by the police?
The Hon. J. P. HANNAFORD: The Hon. R. D. Dyer has obviously been reading some of the press releases I have issued in relation to this matter. The issue to which he refers arises from the well-known Williams case, in which the High Court outlined guidelines for the questioning of suspects. The Williams case has been the subject of law reform examination. The first legislative reform was in Victoria, where, as honourable members may recall, in the early 1980s, if my recollection is correct, legislation was introduced under which a suspect could be detained for only six hours for questioning, subject to a right to extend. That legislation operated in Victoria for some years before other jurisdictions moved in a similar direction. As a result of the Victorian experience, the law was reformed. The fixed period was taken away and the reasonable period of time concept was introduced. That concept operates in Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory. If my recollection is correct, the Law Reform Commission report was issued after the Victorian experience. That report recommended that there should be a four-hour detention with a right to extend for another four hours.
The Australian Capital Territory introduced the recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission, despite severe opposition and criticism from all law enforcement agencies. The Australian Capital Territory ignored the Victorian experience. For some time the Government has been examining the concept of a reasonable or fixed period of time. It has decided to recognise the merits of the Victorian reform, because Victoria realised that a fixed period of time was unworkable and that a concept of reasonable time with clear guidelines was needed. The legislation, which is being finalised and will be introduced into Parliament, will adopt that concept of reasonable time, but with clear guidelines so that police, suspects and lawyers will know the rules. Everyone wants clear safeguards The Hon. R. D. Dyer asked whether the legislation will contain a safeguard concerning the right of legal representation.
I have distributed for public comment a draft evidence bill - in fact, I have circulated a copy to every member of Parliament - which will be consistent as between the Commonwealth and New South Wales so that we can attempt to move towards some comity, if not consistency, in regard to the rules of evidence. The right to a lawyer, the right to an interpreter and the right to be informed are all provided in that bill or its associated legislation, which will be introduced in this House. I have indicated that I desire to improve access to the law, and to increase certainty in these areas so that there is greater clarity not only for the administrators of the law but also for those who are brought to the attention of the courts under the law. That is certainly my intention.