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26 Jul 2016

Summary Procedure (Abolition of Complaints) Amendment Bill

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 5 July 2016.)

The Hon. A.L. McLACHLAN ( 16:55 ): I rise to speak to the Summary Procedure (Abolition of Complaints) Amendment Bill 2016. I speak on behalf of my Liberal Party colleagues. I indicate to the chamber that the Liberal Party will support the passage of the bill at the second reading.

This bill amends the Summary Procedure Act 1915 to streamline the administrative method by which people are charged with criminal offences. The aim of this bill is to eliminate double handling when charges are upgraded from a summary offence to an indictable offence, or vice versa. The current method for initiating criminal charges is either by a complaint or an information. For summary offences, a complaint form is filed in the Magistrates Court and accompanied by an affidavit.

For indictable offences, an information is filed and accompanied by written statements verified by declaration. Currently, if an offence, is upgraded or downgraded to a higher or lower category, a new form must be filed with the court in the appropriate format. In addition to this, the witness evidence filed in support of the charges also needs to be refiled in the appropriate format. The bill provides for a single method of initiating charges by filing what is titled ‘an information’, together with a supporting affidavit.

The bill also amends the act so that the supporting evidence will be in affidavit format for both summary and indictable offences. This will eliminate the need for witnesses and victims to restate their evidence in a different format when charges are amended by the prosecuting authorities. The government asserts that, by eliminating double handling, efficiencies will be achieved in the criminal justice procedure.

The government stated in its second reading that the use of the common information format avoids the additional workload, expense and delay that results from changing charges from a summary offence to an indictable offence, or vice versa. The proposal primarily benefits SAPOL, but the reduction of delay and double handling also benefits victims and witnesses and the criminal justice sector more broadly.

Pursuant to the Evidence Affidavits Act 1928, an affidavit can be sworn before a proclaimed police officer. South Australia Police proposes to now require that all officers undertake relevant training and seek appointment by the Governor as a proclaimed officer for this purpose. The government asserts this initiative will enable all police officers to administer oaths and ought to improve the quality of sworn affidavits filed by the South Australia Police.

In a letter from the Attorney-General to the shadow attorney-general, dated 30 June 2016, the Deputy Premier advised that currently there are approximately 4,235 sworn police officers who are already prescribed and are able to witness an affidavit. This is out of a total of 4,816 sworn police officers. Those remaining police officers who are not already proclaimed police officers will be required to undertake the existing online training module before they are appointed as proclaimed police officers by the Governor.

The letter goes on to say that currently about 1,922 of the 4,235 existing proclaimed police officers will need to refresh their training. I would ask whether the minister, in summing up the second reading, could set out the time frames that are anticipated to complete the refresher training and the training of new officers. I know that the proposal before the chamber is consistent with the current practice in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia. Consultation has been with the South Australia Police and the Courts Administration Authority. The government has advised that the Courts Administration Authority has expressed no objections. There has been no formal submission provided by the Law Society, but I understand that the society is supportive of the bill.

As I advised, the Liberal Party is supportive of the bill on the face of it, as it appears to endeavour to reduce the administrative burden associated with the management of criminal charges. The amendments will also eliminate the need for witnesses to provide evidence in duplicate formats when charges are upgraded or downgraded. This has the potential to reduce the stress for victims and witnesses of having to recount events which might be extremely traumatic for them, and I support this endeavour.

I would also ask that the minister, in his summing up of the second reading, provide the chamber with some advice on how the efficiencies claimed by the government will be measured. Will fewer staff be required, or how will the efficiency gains be applied if not in the reduction of staff? In other words, where will the benefits of these efficiencies materialise? With those remarks, I commend the bill to the chamber.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. K . L. Vincent.

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