Symposium on summary criminal procedure

On 19 October 2014, CLANT President Russell Goldflam wrote to NT Attorney-General John Elferink as follows:

At the invitation of the Acting Director of Legal Policy in the Department of the Attorney-General and Justice, I attended the “Symposium” conducted on 8 October 2014 by Professor Hampel on summary criminal justice reform.

CLANT appreciates the opportunity to be invited to participate as a stakeholder in government’s consultations with the community regarding law reform, and we commend the Department for the professional and transparent manner in which it routinely conducts such consultations on a wide range of issues.

CLANT has been keenly and constructively involved in this particular issue, as follows:

    • I was a member of the Steering Committee convened by the Chief Magistrate to draft a Practice Direction incorporating key reforms to summary hearing procedure, and participated in intensive lengthy deliberations in January/February 2014 culminating in the promulgation on 11 March 2014 by the Chief Magistrate of PD No. 4 of 2014.
    • On 18 March 2014, CLANT notified its members of the Practice Direction via the CLANT website, here.
    • In response to an invitation for submissions issued by the Department on 16 April 2014, on 16 May 2014, CLANT made this submission.
    • On 23 May 2014, CLANT notified its members of its submission, via the CLANT website, here.
    • On various occasions since 23 May 2014, I have inquired with Departmental Policy Officers as to the progress of the matter, which has also been a topic of frequent discussion amongst CLANT members.

Following all of this, Professor Hampel’s Symposium was, I am obliged to say, a most disappointing event. 

Like innumerable other legal practitioners around Australia, I have directly benefitted from Professor Hampel’s outstanding work as an advocacy trainer, and I am personally indebted to him for his enthusiasm and skill in that field.  However, in my respectful view, this Symposium added no value to a law reform project in which we have now been engaged for the best part of a year.  The event took the form of a two hour admonitory lecture, in the course of which attendees were urged to change their culture and move with the times.  This may have been salutary advice to an audience of Victorian members of the Bar back in the 1990s, but it is my firm view that it served no useful purpose for contemporary practitioners in the Northern Territory. 

Regrettably (and surprisingly, given the promotion of this event as a “Symposium”), no significant time was allowed for questions or comments from the floor, and the responses given were brief and superficial. 

Several of the participants, including both defence counsel and prosecutors, subsequently expressed their frustration to me about the event, and I have been directed by the CLANT Committee to communicate this to you. I am informed that the associated event held the following evening was very poorly attended by members of the Bar, for whom it was specifically intended.

I refer you again to the issues we have addressed in detail in our submission noted above.  As we have previously stated, “CLANT supports the Bill’s key aim of reforming the summary justice system to make it more efficient, in particular by having more cases settle, and at an earlier stage.”  Nevertheless, we have identified some serious impediments to successfully implementing these reforms, and it remains CLANT’s firm view that the draft Bill should not proceed in its current form.