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30 November 2010
A Deakin University researcher has found inherent problems in the delivery of justice system services and programs to regional Victorians.
Research Fellow from Deakin University’s School of Law, Richard Coverdale, has told the inaugural National Rural Regional Law and Justice Conference in Warrnambool that his research project, Postcode Justice – Rural and Regional Disadvantage in the Administration of the Law, had highlighted key areas in which regional Victorians experience disadvantage.
“There have been some attempts by the former state government to redress the imbalance but there are stark indicators that show regional areas are still a long way from matching their metropolitan counterparts,” Mr Coverdale said.
The paper presented by Mr Coverdale suggests that little consideration is given to the spatial disadvantage experienced by regional communities in the development of legislation or the implementation of justice system programs, practices and procedures.
“The outcome of your court experience will largely depend on where you live which clearly conflicts with notions of equity and natural justice,” he said.
While more adequate funding is essential, Mr Coverdale said a greater flexibility in the delivery of services and acknowledgment of variations in needs and circumstances of regional court participants through legislation, funding, policies and procedures is critical.
“More funding for regional areas needs to be considered but there is also a need to review legislation and court date allocations, and to give greater recognition to the problems caused by distance,” he said.
“Making sure legislation and penalties consider issues related to distance is an important step. For example, mandatory loss of licence is a harsher penalty in rural areas because there is such limited access to public transport.”
Mr Coverdale said new `problem solving court’ programs, designed to reduce the likelihood of re-offending were being introduced in metropolitan areas but only had limited roll-out to regional communities.
These programs focus on addressing the behaviour underlying many criminal offences, and delivers sentences that involve linking offenders to the various relevant services.
“The merits of these programs are clear and independent evaluations confirm their effectiveness. However there remain large areas of regional Victoria in which these court-based programs are unavailable,” he said.
Mr Coverdale said court based programs such as Court Integrated Service Program, Mental Health Liaison Service and other community-based programs and services should also be available to more regional areas.
An additional issue raised in Mr Coverdale’s paper was that Melbourne County Court participants were allocated specific hearing dates but in regional areas they were given a ‘circuit date’ but no firm hearing day. “Often regional solicitors and their clients don’t know the date until a few days prior to the hearing, which impacts on their ability to access senior barristers and expert evidence at regional circuit courts.”
The paper suggests that an independent and unified ‘voice’ is needed to ensure a genuine and informed response to the inequity in delivery of justice system services to regional communities.
The research project, funded by the Victoria Law Foundation, sought to determine if rural and regional Victorians are disadvantaged when participating in the justice system in comparison to their metropolitan counterparts. The research involved a literature review, interviews, surveys and analysis.
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