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Thursday, 17 November 1960

Mr WARD (East Sydney) .- I realize that I am only a layman in this argument. I am, therefore, not going to argue the law, but I am going to deal with the common sense of the situation. For the life of me I cannot understand how the honorable member for Bruce (Mr. Snedden) confused what I said in regard to this matter. Until he mentioned it I would not have been aware that drunkenness is an indictable offence. If, as a member of the legal profession, he can advance this as some sort of argument, I suppose that I must, in some degree, accept it. But I repeat that, in considering the Opposition's amendment, the Attorney-General said you have to keep in mind the cost of the administration. So the question of whether the accused shall be given the protection which the great majority of Australian people believe he should have - that of making a choice as to whether, on a serious offence, he has the right to go before a jury or to have the case heard summarily by a magistrate - is, by the action of the Attorney-General, to be denied him purely on the basis that there could be excessive cost of administration if this right were to be extended as far as the Opposition proposes it might be extended.

I put this case to the Attorney-General: Let us assume that he was representing an accused who had been charged with an indictable offence which did not involve an article of a value in excess of £50, and he advised his client that it was advisable for him not to have his offence tried before a magistrate, but to go before a jury. According to what the Attorney-General now proposes the accused, despite the advice of his legal adviser, if the prosecutor - who of all people is out to get a conviction - makes application to the magistrate, the accused can then be tried summarily by the magistrate and not have the right of trial by jury. I think this is a distinct infringement of what I regard as the civil rights of all Australian citizens. The lawyers can argue what has been the situation since 1898 or some previous year, but the Australian people themselves believe that the Australian citizen has this right and I think that they will be surprised to learn that they do not possess, in the case of very serious offences upon which they can be indicted, the right to trial by jury.

Mr Snedden - Which are the offences upon which they have not the right to trial by jury?

Mr WARD - Corruption, conspiracy, counterfeiting and forging. There could be quite a number of indictable offences which might involve an article of less than £50 in value, and evidently in respect of these very serious offences the accused is not to be given the choice of being tried before a jury. I think it is an infringement of the rights of the people. I maintain that the Opposition's attitude in this matter is correct and that, however the case may be argued, the Government, if it persists in its present attitude, is obviously seeking to take away from certain Australian citizens, who may find themselves involved in such serious offences, the right of trial by jury.

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