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QLS policy team keeps pace with change

QLS Policy Solicitor Bridget Cook addresses the Criminal Law Conference. Photo: Geoff McLeod

Queensland Law Society (QLS) is working hard to represent its members at a time of rapid legislative reform in the state, the society’s Criminal Law Conference was told last week.

QLS Policy Solicitor Bridget Cook outlined the body’s efforts over the past financial year, during the presentation The future of law & policy at the Hotel Grand Chancellor on Friday.

Ms Cook told attendees that QLS’s committees had provided 204 submissions (38 on criminal law), and given evidence at 21 parliamentary committee public hearings, mainly before the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee.

“We also held 144 committee meetings and attended 176 stakeholder engagements with various government bodies, the courts and practitioner working groups,” she said.

Ms Cook outlined the society’s position on several Bills before Parliament, including the Strengthening Community Safety Bill 2023.

Introduced into Parliament in February, it seeks to amend the Bail Act 1980, the Queensland Criminal Code, the Youth Justice Act 1992 and the Police Powers and Responsibilities Act 2000 to (among other things):

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  • provide that it is an offence for children to breach a condition of their bail undertaking;
  • provide that a child’s bail history must be taken into account during sentencing; and
  • increase the maximum penalty for unlawful use or possession of motor vehicles, aircraft or vessels from seven to 10 years imprisonment.

“Put bluntly, this Bill represented a knee-jerk reaction rather than a careful and unhurried examination of the full range of options to address the issue of youth crime that is occupying much of the media space at the moment,” Ms Cook said

She said QLS and the Queensland Bar Association had raised serious concerns about the Bill.

 “Notably, the legislative amendments proposed in the Bill expressly override the protections of the Human Rights Act 2019 (Qld). In our view, the Government provided an unacceptably simplistic and brief justification of the legislation’s incompatibility with the HR Act,” she said.

“The reality is that this will put more pressure on burgeoning remand numbers and sets a disarming precedent.”

Ms Cook also spoke about other Bills that aim to amend laws relating to issues such as public intoxication, begging and public urination; serious vilification and hate crimes; and forensic DNA testing.

Dominic Brunello, accredited criminal law specialist and Deputy of the QLS Criminal Law Committee, at the conference. Photo: Geoff McLeod

Dominic Brunello, Deputy of the QLS Criminal Law Committee and accredited criminal law specialist at Brisbane criminal law firm Robertson O’Gorman, spoke about significant reform likely to flow from key recommendations of the Women’s Safety & Justice Task Force.

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The task force was commissioned in 2021 to examine the impact of coercive control and the experiences of women across the criminal justice system. It released the Hear her voice reports in December 2021 and July last year.

Mr Brunello spoke about the task force’s recommendations for the creation of an offence of coercive control, and amendment of the Evidence Act 1977 (Qld)in relation to evidence of a complainant’s prior sexual activities/experience; admissibility of evidence of a preliminary complaint; and codifying judicial directions in sexual offence proceedings.

He spoke about the wording of offence provisions enacted in Scotland via the Domestic Abuse (Scotland) Act 2018, and in New South Wales, via the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Coercive Control) Act 2022 (which come into effect in June  next year), to predict possible “live issues” for lawyers once coercive control laws are enacted and in force in Queensland.

The Criminal Law Conference, worth seven CPD points, offered sessions on a range of topics. All sessions will be available from the QLS Shop in coming weeks.

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