Delays in criminal trials would be reduced if judges were given new powers to require people charged with serious criminal offences to disclose their defence before trial, according to a report released by the New South Wales Law Reform Commission today, recommending the introduction of sweeping new defence disclosure duties.
According to the Hon Justice Michael Adams, the Chair of the Commission, the recommendations are aimed at improving the fairness of trials for both the prosecution and the defence, as well as ensuring greater efficiency in their conduct.
'Trial by ambush should no longer be permitted' Justice Adams said. 'The Commission recommends that judges should be allowed to order accused persons to disclose the defences they propose to rely on at trial, including providing any scientific reports that they wish to use. At present, they can simply remain silent and require the prosecution to prove all relevant facts, even those which are not disputed'.
The Commission also recommends that people tried in the Local Courts should be required to give notice of proposed alibi evidence. This requirement, which already applies in the higher courts, would give police a fair opportunity to investigate alibis in all cases.
If an accused co-operates with the pre-trial procedures and is convicted, that co-operation can be taken into account on sentence.
The Commission also looked at changes to the law about the right to remain silent in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. Under these changes, judges can direct juries to draw strong inferences against people who exercise the right to silence, including the inference that they are guilty. The Commission's Report criticises these changes and strongly recommends that they not be introduced in New South Wales.
The Report is available on the Commission's web page at
www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lrc. Copies may be obtained from the Commission on (02) 9228 8230.
For further information, contact Justice Adams, Chairperson on (02) 9230 8737.