SUMMARY OFFENCES (DISRESPECTFUL CONDUCT IN COURT) AMENDMENT BILL

Second Reading

Adjourned debate on second reading.

(Continued from 7 July 2016.)

Ms CHAPMAN ( Bragg—Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (11:09): I thank the member for Kaurna for making a contribution and identifying the government's position on this, because clearly it seals the fate of this bill. However, I want to place three things on the record.

One is that, yes, we do have a contempt procedure in our courts that effectively enables judicial officers to have a power of inquiry, as an authority, to be able to manage the procedural fairness within their courts. It is effectively that power that is used. It is not currently an offence at all, and that is exactly what we are trying to do in this bill, to make it an offence. So that is what they have now.

Secondly, within that envelope the concern is that the general disorderly or disruptive behaviour of someone in the courtroom will not, in fact, actually qualify for management as a contempt matter because it does not reach the threshold of what is necessary to satisfy that the behaviour is contemptuous. Of course, in some jurisdictions the power of enforcement is to hold them in prison indefinitely, until they purge their contempt. It is a process that is a management tool that has a high threshold to apply, and that this type of disorderly and disrespectful conduct that we are talking about in this bill could escape.

Whilst the member for Kaurna invites the application of the magistrate or judge to be able to remove the person from the court, the fact is that it is often necessary for that person, especially if they are the defendant, to be in the courtroom to hear the case against them and, of course, to be able to present their own. So, that is an impractical alternate process offered as a way to manage the disrespectful and disorderly conduct, and that is disappointing.

Finally, in respect of the processes themselves, by offering to make this type of behaviour an offence we send a clear message that they can be the subject of a fine or a term of imprisonment, but there will be a fine option available to the judiciary. We think that is a sensible way of dealing with a lot of these cases of lower order disorderly, disruptive and disrespectful conduct. Interstate examples have been used because they have been identified, in litigation relating to them, as exposing this weakness in the current system. Other jurisdictions have acted to deal with that, and we are very disappointed that the state does not deal with that.

We are already facing a tsunami of backlog in our courts of cases awaiting trial. The District Court has been over the front page of the paper with over 600 cases waiting to be allocated a trial date. It is not just irritated defendants who are waiting for their day in court but witnesses, family, relatives of victims and the like who are also often in a state of distress and anger at the delay in the process of the hearing of their case, not to mention the lawyers and judges, who can get a bit touchy about these issues as well.

I make the point that we have a tsunami of a problem on its way, and the most important thing we can do at this stage is to provide our judiciary, in particular, and every other person who works in our courts, a safe workplace free of totally disrespectful and disruptive behaviour by anyone in the courtroom. It is going to be more and more important that we have this instrument.

Nevertheless, I note the government's position. The bill will clearly fail. I thank the Hon. Dennis Hood in the other place, who has contemporaneously introduced his bill and provided the same basis upon which it should be progressed. We will see what happens with that. It might give the opportunity for the government to reflect and consider how helpful this process may be in sending a clear message to those who come into our overcrowded, overworked courtrooms that, when they do come in, finally, to get their day in court, whether they are a victim or a defendant, that orderly behaviour is expected. I commend the bill to the house.