On Civil Liberties and Politics in Criminal Justice

DOI10.1177/000486588702000401
Date01 December 1987
Publication Date01 December 1987
SubjectEditorial
AUST &NZ
JOURNAL
OF CRIMINOLOGY (December 1987) 20 (193-194)
EDITORIAL
193
On Civil Liberties
and
Politics in Criminal Justice
Recent years have seen aremarkable
output
of official reports and discussion
papers on various aspects of the criminal justice process. This
output
is still
continuing. At the federal level, the Review of Commonwealth Criminal Law being
conducted
under
the chairmanship of Sir Harry Gibbs, the former Chief Justice of
the
High Court, has produced a series of discussion papers on such matters as The
Onus
of
Proof: Offences Against The Government Involving Property Or Money;
Arrest and Related Matters and Search Warrants. In Victoria,
the
Coldrey
Committee, abody set up under the chairmanship of the State
Director
of Public
Prosecutions, Mr J Coldrey
QC,
is examining various aspects of criminal justice. It
has already produced aReport on Committal Proceedings (Feb 1986), a Report on
Section 460
of
the Crimes
Act
1958 (dealing with police powers
of
questioning of
suspects), and most recently areport on fingerprinting. The New South Wales Law
Reform Commission has a broad-ranging mandate to review
"the
law and practice
relating to criminal procedure", and has already produced a
number
of papers, most
recently discussion papers on Procedure From Charge to Trial: Specific Problems
and Proposals and Police Powers
of
Arrest and Detention.
On
questions of
sentencing,
the
Victorian Sentencing Committee has recently produced a
wide-ranging Discussion Paper, and the Australian Law Reform Commission has
produced three discussion papers on various aspects of sentencing.
These reports and discussion papers have made aconsiderable contribution to the
criminal justice debate: they set out relevant issues, and discuss
the
various policy
options that
are
available, thus providing the general community with a greater
level of information than has often been available in the past.
But these reports and discussion papers are generally designed to lead to
legislative change
and
to action by government rather than to change by the courts
and judges. In this context political pressure groups will inevitably
playa
greater
part
in the development of government policy in the criminal justice area. Police,
prison officers and
the
women's movement have already
had
agreat impact on
government policy in the area. Whether this impact has always
been
advantageous
is much less clear. Certainly, there is a great risk that governments in difficult policy
areas will opt for courses that are more or less acceptable to powerful
and
vociferous
interest groups especially if they do not cost too much. The corollary is that values
and interest groups which do not have a solid political support base will tend to be
neglected. Civil libertarian values, which can be seen as protecting the guilty, can
all too easily be significantly infringed.
In this context, recent provisions of the Victorian
Road
Safety
Act
1986 are of
some interest. Section 60 of that Act makes it an offence for
the
owner of a motor
vehicle when asked by a police officer not to give any information he or she may
have about who was driving the
motor
vehicle on the particular occasion. If the
police officer is investigating an accident where aperson died or suffered serious
injury, the maximum penalty for failure to provide such information is a fine of
$2000 and/or 4months' jail. In any
other
case, the maximum penalty is a fine of
$1000 and/or 2months' jail. Moreover, in any case if a person is convicted of this
offence, his or
her
licence must be cancelled for 2 years. It is
not
clear whether this
legislation makes it an offence for an owner who was also the driver at the relevant

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