Reporting season

Yesterday’s press was full of weird complaints about an avalanche of 300 annual reports, which supposedly should have been spread out over weeks to faciliate media reporting. I don’t get this: they’re annual reports (in this case, all for the last financial year) so of course they come out more or less the same time. Anyway, why can’t the media just maintain its interest for longer than a one-day news cycle? There are two bigger issues for me: First, why do they stay confidential until tabled in Parliament? All this tabling is just a pointles formality, isn’t it? Why not report directly to the public? And, second, why doesn’t tabling translate directly into accessibility? Why doesn’t parliament post these directly on its webite (e.g. table.parliament.vic.gov.au?) While the media supposedly got their hardcopies from a little table in a hallway in Parliament, everyone else will have to twiddle their thumbs until each individual authority posts theirs on their website.

The Charter interest in these reports are that they are virtually all reports by public authorities, so there should be details of their Charter compliance. Here’s a few reports that that (in some cases, reportedly) have some interesting Charter tidbits:

  • Community Visitors Annual Report 2007-2008: The Age reports that this report alleges a mass breach of the Charter rights of some disabled people to freedom of movement and to liberty, by virtue of their continued detention in psychiatric facilities simply because more suitable voluntary facilities are not available. The report specifically considers Charter s. 7(2) and argues, bodly but convincingly, that lack of resources cannot be a reasonable limit in such circumstances. A neat example of the socio-ecomonic implications of civil and political rights. Alas, at present, the report isn’t on the Office of Public Advocacy’s website.
  • Adult Parole Board Annual Report 2007-2008: The Herald Sun reports that the Justice Simon Whelan, the Board’s Chair – what happened to Murray Kellam? – believes that there are ‘compelling reasons for a continuation of its exemption from compliance with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities’. I look forward to reading the first every public account of those compelling reasons, once the Report appears at the Board’s website. Next week, I’m told.
  • Judicial College of Victoria Annual Report 2007-2008: I was expecting this report to be full of information about the JCV’s massive Charter judicial education programme, which has been such a success so far. Alas, there’s only a mention of the Judicial Officers Informaiton Network’s ‘human rights practice page’, which ‘continues to grown as the jurisprduence in this area starts to develop’. I wonder if it gets the date right for Charter s. 49(2)?
  • Office of Public Prosecutions Annual Report 2007-2008: This report, available here, contains a special coloured page on human rights. It outlines the non-application of the Charter in the Underbelly case and also the Court of Appeal’s appalling dicta dismissing the Canadian Supreme Court’s view on suppression orders in a throwaway line. (Elsewhere Rapke signals that he wants few suppression orders in future, dismissing the recent rise as a consequence of the gangland murder trials.)

More interesting is a report of a unpublished bail matter:

The applicant Mr B was charged with conspiracy to traffic a commercial quantity of drugs and was required to show exceptional circumstances in order to be granted bail. During the final submissions, the defence raised the issue of delay, stating that the rial was likely to be delayed for two years. As a result, the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities and the recent judgment of Bongiorno J in the application of Kelly Michael Gray [2008] VSC 4 were discussed. The DPP submitted that the application should be distinguished on the basis that whilst Bongiorno J accepted that Gray may well have remained in custody for a period in excess of his probable sentence, Mr B was likely to be sentenced to a term of imprisonment well in excess of any potential period of remand. The Magistrate ruled that whilst Mr B had demonstrated exceptional circumstances and that the likely delay would be inordinate, the risks of his re-offending and/or fleeing were unacceptable and could not be alleviated by strict conditions. Accordingly, bail was refused.

A pity these decisions aren’t published, hey?

  • VEOHRC’s Annual Report 2007-2008: This report was online yesterday arvo. Good show, VEOHRC! It reveals:
  • confirmation that the Commission only intervened in one matter in the Charter’s first six months, the Mirik case, thus casting some doubt on the necessity for Charter s. 35 notices, at least in matters where the state of Victoria is a party (and hence the notice is only for the Commission’s benefit.)
  • inquiries about the Chater doubled this financial year compared to last one (which straddled the Charter’s commencment date), from 49 to 95 inquiries. But who knows what they were about?
  • the Commission handed out six $5000 grants (from 64 applications) to promote awareness of the Charter. The lucky winners: a mental health seminar, a Charter ESL curriculum, short drama shows for kids (where can I see those? And do they cover Charter s. 38(2)?), young person’ creative responses to the Charter through film, music and design (ditto), a DVD for the disabled and some FRED-focused community service announcements on radio. (“Attention. As of 1/1/7, all listeners have freedom, respect, equality and dignity. Unless you are involved in a proceeding that commenced before 1/1/7.”)
  • Most interesting of all, there’s an account of this below-the-radar Charter involvement in an EOA exemption matter:

In the last financial year the Commission received 13 notifications from VCAT of exemption applications of a public interest nature. The Commission intervened in only one application, Re Hanover, which involved an application to revoke an exemption previously granted to Hanover Welfare Services. The Commission made submissions on the correct interpretation of the exemption power under the EOA in light of the Charter of Human Rights. The Commission also facilitated discussions between the parties. By consent of all the parties the exemption was amended to remove the provision which allowed the exclusion of transgender women who had not undergone gender reassignment surgery from a women-only refuge.

The original matter appears to be Hanover Welfare Services Ltd (Anti Discrimination Exemption) [2007] VCAT 640, where an exemption application from a women’s only refuge was extended to include some transgender women after one former man walked around naked, with the sight of a penis causing distress to other residents. VTAC Deputy Prez Cate MacKenzie noted that there were doubts about whether such an exemption would fit within existing EOA exceptions, but argued that allowing access to ‘men’ would make the service inaccessible to women. As always (it seems), she granted the maximum three-year exemption, but it appears the VEOHRC was prepared to argue that the Charter’s commencement demands a reconsideration. While the exclusion of men is uncontroversial, it is not clear to me where transgender women are meant to go under MacKenzie’s rule. So, it seems unsurprising that that part of the exemption was dropped. Of course, it’d be interesting to know what VEOHRC said about the Charter, but alas the report doesn’t say.

I certainly don’t have to time to locate all 300 reports. But if anyone knows of any other Charter tidbits of interest, I’d love to hear about them.

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