Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Individualised justice and consistency: recent changes in Victorian sentencing law

Last month, the High Court handed down judgment in Director of Public Prosecutions v Dalgliesh (a pseudonym), a decision which alters the sentencing landscape in Victoria. Not long before that, amendments to the Sentencing Act were passed which are set to introduce 'standard sentences' for certain indictable offences. With all these changes on the way, we've taken the opportunity to prepare a summary of what you need to know when it comes to sentencing (adult) offenders in Victoria.

Sentencing in Victoria, a refresher

In Victoria, sentencing is governed by two sources: legislation and the common law. Offences and their maximum (and sometimes minimum) penalties are usually found in legislation, including the Crimes Act 1958, the Summary Offences Act 1966, the Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981 and the Road Safety Act 1986.

Operating within the boundaries of these legislative provisions, decision-makers have discretion as to the appropriate penalty. In reaching a decision, they are guided by sentencing purposes, principles and factors, which are found in the common law and the Sentencing Act 1991. For those wanting to do background reading, there are many great resources on how sentencing works, including the Sentencing Council's Quick Guide to Sentencing and the Judicial College of Victoria's Sentencing Manual.

Of particular note for the recent changes are the sentencing factors outlined in s 5(2) of the Sentencing Act. Under this section, decision-makers are required to have regard to a range of factors including the maximum penalty for the offence; current sentencing practices for the offence type (the sentences that have been given for similar cases); the nature and gravity of the offence; and the impact of the offence on any victim.

The decision in Dalgliesh

The issue before the High Court in Dalgliesh was essentially about the weight that should be accorded to current sentencing practices.  Our system values individual justice. The High Court affirmed this much in Dalgliesh, observing that 'the imposition of a just sentence on an offender in a particular case is an exercise of judicial discretion concerned to do justice in that case.' However, it is also the case, as Gleeson CJ said in Wong v The Queen (and as the High Court reiterated in Dalgliesh), that 'the administration of criminal justice works as a system … It should be systemically fair, and that involves, amongst other things, reasonable consistency.' The consistency being referred to by the Court is the application of the relevant legal principles, rather than the numerical outcome.

In this case, Mr Dalgliesh had been convicted and sentenced for a number of serious offences in the County Court. The DPP appealed the sentence on two grounds: that the sentence imposed on the incest charge was manifestly inadequate and the orders for cumulation resulted in a total effective sentence that was manifestly inadequate.

The Court of Appeal clearly expressed a view that current sentencing practices for the offences in question were inadequate, concluding that the range is so low it 'reveals error in principle' and is not proportionate to the objective gravity of the offending. However, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal, holding that the sentences were within the range indicated by current sentencing practices.

The High Court rejected this approach, ruling that the Court of Appeal had erred by treating the range established by current sentencing practices as determinative or decisive of the appeal before it. The High Court unanimously found that there was no statutory basis for this interpretation. It reiterated that the consistency sought is that of approach, rather than outcome and that the Sentencing Act 'does not require adherence to a range of sentences that is demonstrably contrary to principle.'

In doing so, the Court also overruled the decision in Ashdown, which emphasised that an offender who pleads guilty to an offence does so in the expectation that he or she is to be sentenced in line with current sentencing practices. The High Court emphatically rejected this approach, ruling that 'the only expectation an offender can have at sentence is of the imposition of a justice sentence according to law.'

More change to come … amendments to the Sentencing Act

The other change on its way for sentencing in Victoria is in the form of legislation. Parliament recently passed the Sentencing Amendment (Standard Sentences) Bill 2017, which will come into effect in April 2018, unless proclaimed earlier. The Bill introduces standard sentences for certain indictable offences. The standard sentence will be an additional factor for courts to take into account, in the form of a legislative guidepost. The Bill also makes some changes to the operation of guideline judgments. 

Key takeaways

  • The weight to be accorded to current sentencing practices in Victorian sentencing law has changed. The High Court has made it clear that current sentencing practices are one factor to be considered. They do not play a decisive or determinative role. 
  • The introduction of standard sentences will soon provide another factor to be taken into account by the courts when sentencing offenders for certain indictable offences. These amendments will come into effect in April 2018, unless proclaimed earlier. 

VGSO provides assistance to government on the application of sentencing principles and statutory interpretation.  For more information and assistance please contact our senior lawyers below.

This blog was prepared by Katharine Brown, Solicitor.

Paula Cumbo 
9032 3043

Tien Tran
8684 0414

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Victorian Government releases its first cyber security strategy

Gavin Jennings the Special Minister of State announced the Victorian Government Cyber Security Strategy on 25 August 2017.  The Victorian Government Solicitor's Office is proud to host a panel discussion on Monday 23 October 2017 regarding Cyber Security and the whole of Victorian Government approach to improve capability and resilience. The event is free and all members of the Victorian Public Service are welcome to attend. You can register for the event here.

The Strategy is to bring a whole of government approach to cyber security to help Victorian Government digital infrastructure better respond to the evolving cyber security environment.  The strategy notes that the security environment is becoming significantly more sophisticated, and as such a more sophisticated approach to cyber security is warranted. This is addressed in 23 action points in 5 categories of action.

Previously, cyber security has been managed on an agency by agency basis, with guidance from sources such as the Victorian Protective Data Security Framework.  The strategy aims to leverage all Government learning in the area, in recognition that not all agencies have the same resources to deal with the cyber threat.

The key element announced is the creation of the Chief Information Security Officer within the Department of Premier and Cabinet. Mr John O'Driscoll has been appointed to the role and will be responsible for overseeing Government's response to the cyber threat, developing best practice, providing assurance, reporting internally on the Government's cyber security status and coordinating cross Government action. You can read the media release announcing the appointment here.

The strategy also aims to enhance Government capability in terms of strategic planning, reporting and technical proficiency, both through partnering agreements and a dedicated push for skilled workers.

We anticipate rapid change in this space, with 19 of the 23 action points due to be delivered by April 2018.

If you'd like to discuss managing the legal risks relating to a cyber security breach, please contact us:

Isabel Parsons
Managing Principal Solicitor
9947 1405

Tina Lee
Principal Solicitor
9947 1426

James Stephens
Principal Solicitor
9947 1422

Stuart Taylor
9947 1415

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Director of Public Prosecutions publishes new policy

In August 2017, the Director of Public Prosecutions published the Policy of the Director of Public Prosecutions for Victoria (Policy).  The Policy follows a comprehensive review of the DPP's policy material and replaces all former DPP policies.

The Policy is required reading for anyone involved in prosecution or employed in an agency with prosecutorial or regulatory functions.  You can and should use the Policy to guide your prosecutorial decisions in line with modern prosecutorial principles.  We've produced a quick summary of what the policy covers to help you easily identify the areas you might find most relevant to your day to day functions.

What does the Policy cover?

The Policy supplements the Public Prosecutions Act 1994 and relevant case law to promote  transparency, accountability and consistency in prosecutorial decision-making.  It aims to reflect, accurately and succinctly, the needs of modern-day prosecutors.  Importantly, the overriding criteria in making the decision to prosecute remain that there is a reasonable prospect of a conviction and the prosecution is in the public interest.

In summary, the Policy covers:

  • prosecutorial discretion 
  • the role of the prosecutor
  • victims and persons adversely affected by crime
  • resolution of criminal proceedings by agreement between the prosecution and the accused
  • the appropriate jurisdiction for indictable offences triable summarily
  • undertakings and indemnities
  • juries
  • family violence
  • appeals, references, retrials and reinvestigations
  • takeover of prosecutions by the DPP
  • proceeds of crime
  • giving reasons for prosecutorial decisions
  • advice from the Office of Public Prosecutions to external agencies
  • detention orders under the Serious Sex Offenders (Detention and Supervisions) Act 2009.

The DPP has also said that he will not print the Policy for distribution, but will treat it as a living, electronic document, to be continually reviewed and accessed as needed.  This approach ensures that the Policy is consistently relevant and up-to-date.  You can follow the DPP on Twitter to receive notification of updates to the policy.

What doesn't the Policy cover?

Inevitably, some matters covered by former policies are not covered in the Policy.  After all, the single, 50-page Policy replaces over 50 former policies, issued over several years and totalling almost 500 pages.  In the Policy Foreword, the DPP notes that this series of former policies did not bear a sufficient connection to the practice of a modern-day prosecutor.  Generally speaking, the Victorian public prosecutions service has sought to excise any policy material that was out of date, was related to internal DPP procedures or was seen as an unnecessary recitation of the law.

To give just a few examples, the new Policy does not reproduce the former policies on media communication, the investigation of jury offences or protocols for the prosecution of joint State-Commonwealth matters.  Several policies relating to specific applications or pieces of legislation have also been retired, such as those on notifications under s 49(1) of the Coroners Act 2008, the granting of consent to prosecute under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 and the granting of consent to extend time to prosecute under the Funerals Act 2006.

What else does the Policy mean for me?

Agencies with prosecutorial or regulatory functions may also wish to review their internal policies and manuals to ensure they are up-to-date.  VGSO have a team of regulatory and enforcement specialists who can assist with investigations, prosecutions, as well as drafting of relevant policies, manuals and staff training.

Where can I go for more information?

If you would like further advice about the Policy or its implications for your practice, please contact:

Alicia Robson
8684 0494
Acting Managing Principal Solicitor

Michael Rancie
8684 0266

Friday, 18 August 2017

Tips for contracting with a trustee

Contracting with a trustee increases the complexity and risk of any transaction.  It is imperative that government agencies understand and adequately manage these risks.

What are the risks of contracting with a trustee?

A trust is a relationship where one person or company (the trustee) holds assets for the benefit of another (the beneficiary).  When contracting on behalf of the beneficiaries, a trustee typically wishes to limit its liabilities to the extent to which it is indemnified out of the trust assets.

There are two major risks associated with the trustee's liability being limited in this way:

  1. The trust assets may not be of sufficient value to meet any debts incurred by the trustee.  
  2. The trust assets may not be available to meet any debts incurred by the trustee.  

What can be done to limit these risks?

If you have concerns about contracting with a trustee, there are a number of due diligence steps and contractual devices that can be used to limit these risks:

Review the trust deed

The extent of the indemnification available to the trustee from the trust assets is usually set out in a deed between the trustee and the beneficiaries.  Trust deeds are not publicly available and can only be obtained from the trustee.  Without access to the trust deed, it may be impossible to confirm the scope of a trustee's indemnity.

You can ask the trustee to provide a copy of the trust deed so you can determine the scope of the trustee's indemnification although it would not be unusual for the request to be refused on the grounds of confidentiality.  Further, there is no guarantee that the trustee and the beneficiaries will not modify the terms of the trust deed at a later date, including amending the scope of the trustee's indemnity out of the trust assets.

Obtain details of the trust's asset holdings for the particular trust

You will want to ensure that the trustee can meet any debts and liabilities arising under the contract.  Therefore, you can ask the trustee to provide details of the value of the assets which it holds on trust.  One thing to keep in mind is that even if the trust consists of assets of significant value at the time the contract is signed, there is no guarantee that the trust will still consist of those assets at the time that a relevant liability arises.

Ask the trustee to provide financial security

If there are any concerns that a trustee may not have sufficient trust assets to meet liabilities under the contract it might be prudent to require extra security.

Some of the most common forms of financial security in contractual arrangements include cash security deposits or bank guarantees.  In some cases parent company guarantees may be appropriate.
Another method of risk management is ensuring that the trustee has adequate insurance, so that the insurance policy can respond if an event covered by the policy occurs.  The type and amount of insurance should be customised to the specific contract.

Exclusions from the trustee's limitation of liability

A trustee's power to contract is subject to the limitations in the trust deed.  If the trustee incurs debt whilst acting outside of its conferred powers, or whilst acting fraudulently or negligently, these debts usually cannot be recovered from the trust assets.  In these circumstances, you should ensure that such conduct is excluded from the trustee's limitation of liability clause in your contract.

Further advice and assistance

Contracting with a trustee can add complexity to any commercial or property transaction.  For further advice and assistance, please contact:

Anthony Leggiero
Managing Principal Solicitor
Ph: 9947 1430

Brendan McIntyre
Acting Managing Principal Solicitor
Ph: 9947 1435

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Coming soon! Cyber security audits announced by VAGO

The Victorian Auditor-General’s Office (VAGO) has this month announced plans to conduct audits on departments and agencies to assess their implementation of the Victorian Protective Data Security Framework (VPDSF) and Victorian Protective Data Security Standards (VPDSS), as well as cyber security strategy.

The audits, to run in 2018-19, will ascertain whether the VPDSF and VPDSS have been effective in improving cyber resilience in government to determine whether departments and agencies can adequately prevent, respond to and recover from cyber security attacks.

The Commissioner for Privacy and Data Protection released the VPDSF and VPDSS in mid-2016 to provide direction for Victorian public sector agencies on their data security obligations.  Department heads must prepare Protective Data Security Plans to address the VPDSS and submit the plan to the Commissioner.

Whilst VAGO will be undertaking performance audits for the purpose of ascertaining the effectiveness of the VPDSF and VPDSS in improving government's cyber resilience, the Commissioner may also conduct monitoring and assurance activities, including audits, to ascertain whether departments and agencies are complying with data security standards.

If you would like to know more, contact:

Rebecca Radford
9947 1403

Snezana Stojanoska
9947 1412

James Stephens
 9947 1422

Friday, 9 June 2017

Commonwealth Government introduces Government Procurement (Judicial Review) Bill 2017

Procurement practitioners may have noticed that on 25 May 2017, the Commonwealth Government introduced the Government Procurement (Judicial Review) Bill 2017 designed to give the Commonwealth procurement rules some extra teeth.

What does the Bill propose?

The Bill would enable the Federal Court to grant an injunction or order for compensation for a contravention of relevant Commonwealth Procurement Rules by a Commonwealth entity.

A supplier whose interests are affected by the relevant conduct (which includes a potential supplier ie bidder) may make an application to the court for compensation or an injunction, which may halt the procurement process or preserve the supplier's rights in the process.  

The Bill also provides for complaints to be made to the accountable authority of a relevant Commonwealth entity about a contravention of the relevant Rules, which must then be investigated.

Does this impact Victoria?

The bill does not affect state procurements.  In Victoria, an unsuccessful bidder has to bring proceedings (including an injunction) against an agency under contract law, for breach of the contract that may have been formed through the procurement process. 

If you'd like any more information about government procurement, please contact:

Assistant Victorian Government Solicitor
9947 1404

Managing Principal Solicitor
9947 1403

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Time for a change: Eight ways to get ready for amendments to the FOI Act

The passing of the Freedom of Information Amendment (Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner) Act 2017 has brought about notable changes to Victoria’s Freedom of Information (FOI) regime for agencies and applicants.

Victoria's amendments are designed to promote a culture of open government through access to information and strengthen oversight of the administration of the FOI Act.
The changes come into effect on 1 September 2017.

Contact us for the complete suite of updated FOI templates, available for a fixed fee.

Here are eight things FOI agencies need to do to be ready for the changes.

1. Shorter time frames for processing FOI requests

Agencies and Ministers must make decisions on FOI requests within 30 days, instead of the previous 45 day period.
With the agreement of an applicant, this time frame can be extended by up to 30 days, with the possibility of additional extensions, so long as the extension is granted before the relevant period expires.
Decision makers are permitted an extension of up to 15 calendar days for requests that require consultation with specified third parties (under sections 29, 29A, 31, 31A, 33, 34 or 35) before a decision is made.
Action: Update correspondence templates, FOI manuals and other materials.  Importantly, consider ways of streamlining your document searches, FOI processing and other processes to make them as efficient as possible.

2. New Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner

On 1 September 2017, the new Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner (OVIC) will replace the existing Offices of the Freedom of Information Commissioner and the Commissioner for Data Protection and Privacy.
OVIC is an independent regulatory body.  It will comprise an Information Commissioner who will be assisted by two Deputy Commissioners responsible for FOI and privacy and data protection respectively.
Action: Watch out for updates and free training on the new OVIC to be offered by the current Office of the Freedom of Information Commissioner.

3. Power to review decisions of principal officers and Ministers 

OVIC has power to review FOI decisions made by principal officers and Ministers.
The amendments also provide that OVIC can accept a complaint about a decision made by a Minister that a document does not exist or cannot be located, or a failure by a Minister to comply with new Ministerial professional standards (see below).
Action: Update decision letter templates to advise that review of a decision to refuse a document, or a complaint about a ‘no documents’ decision made by a principal officer or a Minister, can be made to OVIC within 60 days after the date of the decision.

4. Power to review decisions refusing access to Cabinet documents 

OVIC has power to conduct reviews of decisions refusing access to documents exempted under the Cabinet documents exemption (section 28(1)).
Conclusive certificates signed by the Secretary to the Department of Premier and Cabinet and produced to establish that a document is subject to the Cabinet document exemption no longer apply.  In any case, such certificates were not commonly in use.
Action: Ensure decision letters address the relevant factors required in order to claim the Cabinet exemption, namely that the purpose or a substantial purpose for creating the document was for it to be submitted to Cabinet (or a sub-committee of Cabinet) for its consideration.  Care taken to establish the basis of a Cabinet exemption from the outset (including evidence of the purpose for which a document was created) will assist in any review of a decision to apply this exemption.

5. Increased powers in relation to searches for documents

Upon review of a decision, OVIC has power to require an agency or a Minister to conduct further searches for documents.  OVIC may specify methods for undertaking a further search for documents, for example, by directing an agency to use a specified key word search of its email system.
In cases where an agency or Minister refuses a request on the basis that the work involved in processing the request would substantially and unreasonably divert resources or interfere with the performance of the agency or the Minister’s functions, OVIC can require a further search or that a ‘reasonable sample’ of documents be produced.

Compliance with a request to conduct a further search or produce a reasonable sample must be undertaken within at least 10 business days, however, this period may be extended.  Within three days after the conclusion of this time frame, the agency or Minister must notify OVIC of the outcome of the further search or retrieval of sample documents.  OVIC has power to refer a complaint back to the agency or Minister to make a fresh decision.
Action: Consider making detailed notes of searches undertaken for documents, including locations searched and key word searches undertaken. This will assist you should a review application or complaint be made to OVIC.
If you receive a notice requiring a further search or a sample of documents, ensure you comply with the deadline provided in the notice.

6. New coercive and investigative powers

OVIC has power to conduct an own-motion investigation into an agency or principal officer's performance of functions or obligations under the FOI Act. As part of an investigation, the Information Commissioner can compel the production of documents and witnesses to attend before the Commissioner to be examined on oath or affirmation.
A person served with a notice to produce or attend will have the same protection and/or immunity as a witness in a Supreme Court proceeding and will have the right to legal representation if attending to answer questions.
Non-compliance with a notice to produce or attend to answer questions without a reasonable excuse may constitute an offence.
Action: If you receive a notice requiring you to produce documents or appear before the Commissioner to answer questions, ensure you comply with the requirements set out in the notice and, if required, seek clarification from OVIC.

7. Documents that may prejudice an IBAC investigation

Agencies and Ministers should be aware that documents in their possession, which would (or would be reasonably likely to) prejudice or adversely affect IBAC's investigations or informants, are exempt.
Action: If you identify such a document, notify IBAC that you have received a request for access to the document and seek IBAC's view as to whether the document should be disclosed.
Consider preparing a policy and provide training to decision makers to ensure compliance with this requirement.

8. Reduced time limit for agencies and Ministers to apply for review

While FOI applicants continue to have 60 days to lodge a VCAT review application for an OVIC decision, the time frame for an agency or Minister to lodge a VCAT review application is 14 days.

9. Professional standards for decision makers

OVIC will implement professional standards which will operate like a code of conduct to ensure FOI decision makers meet minimum standards for dealing with applicants, conducting document searches, processing requests and engaging in timely and good decision making. The standards are binding on agencies and principal officers.  Principal officers are also responsible for ensuring that all officers and employees are informed about the standards and for ensuring compliance by junior staff.
The standards do not automatically apply to staff in Ministerial offices, but the Premier has the power to adopt the standards (with modifications, if needed) and apply them to Ministers and their staff (Ministerial Standards).
Action:  You may receive an invitation from OVIC inviting your agency to participate in a consultation process for the development of the standards.
Provide training for your FOI decision makers and staff to ensure compliance with the new standards. 
Ensure your agency’s current practices comply with not only the legal requirements but also the 'spirit’ of the FOI Act.

This blog was prepared by Joanne Kummrow and Samudhya Jayasekara with the assistance of Milli Allan.

For further information on FOI matters contact:

Joanne Kummrow 
8684 0462

Andrew Field 
8684 0889

Michele Rowland
8684 0413

Kay Chan
8684 4020