26 September 2023

Law Reform Commission reforms laws galore

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The NSW Law Reform Commission has made 156 recommendations to improve State laws governing the disclosure and publication of Court and Tribunal information.

Tabling the Commission’s Open Justice: Court and tribunal information: access, disclosure and publication, Attorney General Mark Speakman said the Review, commissioned in 2019, involved a complex area of law which required analysis of over 50 individual statutes.

Commenting on the time taken to produce the Report, Chairperson of the Commission, Alan Cameron emphasised the width and complexity of the matters covered, and that the research and consultations were conducted during the pandemic.

Mr Cameron said the Report dealt with legislative ‘exceptions to open justice’, a catch-all term used for provisions that enabled a Court to be closed entirely, for certain people to be excluded, and/or prevented certain information from being published or disclosed.

He said the review also dealt with access to records on the Court file, as a means by which open justice could be facilitated.

Mr Cameron said the complexity and length of the Report was the inevitable result of the Commission’s efforts to balance competing interests and values.

“It is not easy or straightforward to balance the competing interests, between the public’s legitimate expectation that they should have a right to know what happens in Court, on the one hand, and on the other, the need to protect the equally valid interest in matters such as the fair and efficient administration of justice, privacy and protecting vulnerable victims and witnesses,” Mr Cameron said.

“Our work and consultations persuaded us that replacing all the existing legislation with a single statute is not likely to work, but that consistent terminology would help the public and the media to understand the meaning and effect of different types of exceptions to open justice.”

He said that in addition to promoting open justice, the Commission’s aims of reform included to promote consistency in legislation, confidence and certainty in the system, and to increase transparency.

“We also aim to enhance or extend some protections for certain categories of vulnerable people, and empower people to tell their stories, should they wish (subject to some necessary limits),” he said.

“Finally, we aim to promote the efficient and effective operation of Courts and Tribunals by avoiding unreasonable burdens on those who must administer them, including through effective regimes for compliance and enforcement and for access to records on the Court file,” he said.

“We also recommend a general statute containing each of the different types of exceptions to open justice, expanding on the existing Court Suppression and Nonpublication Orders Act 2010 (NSW), to provide a robust framework for Courts in NSW.”

The NSW Law Reform Commission’s 631-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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