Courts Legislation Amendment (Disrespectful Behaviour) Bill 2016

1st June 2016

Mr GREG PIPER ( Lake Macquarie ) ( 12:36 :13 ): I contribute to debate on the Courts Legislation Amendment (Disrespectful Behaviour) Bill 2016. I appreciate the contribution of my crossbench colleague the member for Balmain. He has made some valid points, although I do not entirely agree with his final conclusion. I find it ironic and hypocritical that we are debating this bill. The Government is fighting hard to protect the dignity and respect of the judicial system, yet it did not give the same regard to the judiciary in 2010 when mandatory minimum sentences relating to alcohol-fuelled violence were introduced. The Government often attacked members of the judiciary for being weak in this area and fundamentally attacked one of the most important pillars of our societal system that separates the legislature and the judiciary.

Most people in New South Wales will agree with the intention of the bill. If I was to put it to the people of Lake Macquarie, they would agree as well. It is a shame that the Courts Legislation Amendment (Disrespectful Behaviour) Bill is required at all. Our judicial system should be beyond the disrespectful behaviour that we have seen in recent months. We are all aware of the recent examples of people before the court wilfully showing disrespect to the court by failing to stand for a magistrate or judge, or intentionally disrupting a longstanding procedure by yelling abuse at those who are entrusted with upholding our laws. Standing for a judge or a magistrate is a courtesy and a show of respect, not only for the judge or magistrate but also for the court and society.

Following this due process without yelling abuse is an act of common courtesy and respect that has been upheld by the system for many hundreds of years. It has nothing to do with religion or cultural differences or honouring some higher alternative. It is simply about showing respect for our institutions, which, ironically, support a system that provides these people with significant rights not commonly available in many other countries. It is important to note that this bill does not replace the more serious charge of contempt of court; it adds to it. I accept the explanation of the Attorney General that it bridges the gap between contempt and what is merely disrespectful behaviour.

I also accept that the new legislation is unlikely to be used against people who are unaware of or unfamiliar with court proceedings—for example, a person who may be representing themselves in court for the first time. Nor will it be extended to those who are merely observers in a courtroom—although I would be supportive of a bill that sought to include all those present. I accept that this bill applies to behaviour by those who intentionally disrupt court proceedings. I have no doubt that this bill will be overwhelmingly supported by residents of New South Wales, and I have taken that into consideration when giving my support to the bill. As was mentioned by the member for Heffron and, I think, the member for Liverpool, when they indicated the support of the Opposition for the bill, it is unlikely that this legislation will be used very frequently.

I return to the point made by the member for Balmain. I, too, have grave concerns about proposed new sections 131 (7) and (8). While we are talking about respect for the courts and the ability of courts to determine whether disrespect has been shown to the courts, this legislation does not give the courts that immediate power. Indeed, the legislation says that a judge may refer the issue of disrespectful behaviour in proceedings to the Attorney General. I think that is extraordinary. That would not happen in relation to contempt of court. Proposed new section 131 (8) states:

Proceedings for an offence against this section may be commenced only with the authorisation of the Attorney General.

That is an extraordinary interference in the process. If we want to ensure that respect is shown to the judicial system, this matter should not be referred to a person who holds a political office. Other than that, I believe that the general intention of the bill is right. On that basis, I support the bill.

Website: Read full Parliamentary debate

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