Jury Directions To Be Simpler And Clearer

The Andrews Labor Government will simplify jury directions in criminal trials, reducing court delays, delivering shorter trials and ensuring fewer costly appeals and retrials.

The Jury Directions Bill 2015 – to be introduced into the Victorian Parliament today – will enable judges to provide clearer directions to juries, increasing confidence that jury verdicts are based on a proper understanding of the law.

Importantly, the Bill will provide additional protection for victims of sexual assault, prohibiting the judge or parties from saying that sexual assault complainants are unreliable in general.

Currently, the law could require a judge to direct the jury that a complainant’s credibility may be affected by their failure to report a sexual offence at the earliest possible opportunity.

In addition to perpetuating an inaccurate assumption about the behaviour of complainants, the law currently requires trial judges to give competing and contradictory directions – ultimately confusing jurors.

This Bill will amend the law to require the judge to address any such misconceptions early in the trial in appropriate cases.

It also aims to simplify and clarify important directions on:

  • Other misconduct evidence (such as tendency and coincidence evidence)
  • Unreliable evidence
  • Identification evidence
  • Delay and forensic disadvantage
  • The failure to give or call evidence
  • Delay and credibility
  • What must be proved beyond reasonable doubt

The Bill was developed in consultation with an expert advisory group including representatives from the Court of Appeal, the County Court, Victoria Legal Aid, the Office of Public Prosecutions, the Criminal Bar Association, the Judicial College of Victoria and academics with expertise in jury research.

Quotes attributable to Attorney-General Martin Pakula

“Juries play a critical role in the criminal justice system, so it is crucial that judges provide clear directions to help them make informed decisions and ensure a fair trial.”

“Over the years, jury directions in Victoria have become long and complex. This legislation will help deliver shorter criminal trials, and fewer appeals and retrials based on jury directions.”

“Importantly, this will help to reduce the stress and trauma of unnecessary appeals and retrials that is experienced by victims of crime and their families.”