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Wednesday, 28 October 1914

Senator KEATING (Tasmania) . - In the States and in Great Britain the period is usually six months in cases dealt with by a Court of summary jurisdiction. Curiously enough, the only exception is where a member of the community takes proceedings against an officer of the State, or against a constable, or against a sheriff, or servant of the sheriff, for wrongful seizure or excessive distress. In those instances the time allowed is only one month, and there has always been a feeling that the Government have taken an unfair advantage of the private individual. Undoubtedly, as Senator Gardiner said, the Commonwealth has a large area, but it has its posts and telegraphs, and it will not always be necessary to consult the central authority at the Seat of Government as to whether prosecutions shall be instituted in cases covered by paragraphs b and c. A man living in a remote part of the Commonwealth may have done certain things which are regarded as an offence against Commonwealth law, and may not contemplate the possibility of being prosecuted. Yet eight or nine months afterwards he may be prosecuted when he has forgotten all about it, and possibly in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred has not the necessary means or evidence to provide his defence. There should be a reasonable limit in the case of prosecutions of individuals. The witnesses who could prove a man's innocence may be dead, or have left the country. The defendant will know nothing, whereas the prosecutor - the Government - will be working all the time, and suddenly launch a process against him. The utmost limit to which we should go is six months. Surely the Commonwealth does not require longer to get' a case ready, with all the skilled assistance at its command, and all its means of obtaining information.

Senator Gardiner - This is from the occurrence of the offence.

Senator KEATING - Exactly.

Senator Gardiner - If a man can cover up his tracks long enough, he can go free?

Senator KEATING - Not necessarily. According to this provision, if a man can cover up his tracks for thirteen months he can go free.

Senator Gardiner - Not for serious offences. For them there is no limitation.

Senator KEATING - That is so; and I think it is very wrong. Certainly, with regard to the offences covered by paragraphs b and c there ought to be a limitation of six months at the outside. With regard to paragraph a, it may be parallel with the cases which at present apply in the jurisprudence of the States of the Commonwealth and other parts of the Empire, in which for certain offences there is no time limitation to a prosecution. For example, in the case of major offences, such as burglary, murder, and bigamy, there is no limitation, and" the offenders may be prosecuted at any time. With regard to offences which will be dealt with by Courts of summary jurisdiction, and which will be comparatively minor offences, surely a limitation of six months is enough 1 It will press very hardly upon an individual if he is called upon after the expiry of that time to meet a prosecution, because very possibly all his means of defence and his witnesses may then be out of reach. I think that we can very fairly take the established procedure of the States of the Commonwealth and of Great Britain in this regard.

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