Difficulties associated with conducting complex fraud trials will be discussed at a special meeting in Melbourne today of senior law officers from throughout Australia.
Western Australian Attorney General Joe Berinson said the investigation and prosecution of fraud was long and complex by traditional standards, and could place great strain on the physical resources of the criminal justice system.
"There is also concern about the strain placed on some participants, particularly members of the jury, who can face lengthy involvement in the more complex cases," he said.
"Justice and fairness must remain paramount, but any reforms capable of enhancing efficiency without detriment to the participants would be in the interests of all parties by reducing time and costs."
The recommendations being considered at today's meeting include a number of reforms already implemented in Western Australia which have attracted interest from other States.
"Important reforms have also occurred in other States, and the national perspective now being placed on the issue gives all States and the Commonwealth an opportunity to consider the merits and potential for wider adoption of the various initiatives," Mr Berinson said.
Interest had been shown in specific WA provisions, including:
· the ability of WA courts to determine questions of law and evidence before a jury was empanelled;
· the ability of WA, NSW and Commonwealth courts to admit the statements of a witness which were not disputed without calling the witness;
· capacity for the defence and prosecution to agree to undisputed evidence and proceed without further argument or deliberation; and
· capacity for judges to discount sentences if guilty pleas are made early in the trial process. (This provision is included in legislation currently before the WA Parliament.)
Other issues to be considered include the streamlining of committal proceedings, greater pre-trial disclosure of details of prosecution and defence cases, and ways to make evidence more comprehensible to jurors.
Mr Berinson said some of the proposals were the result of recommendations from judges, prosecutors and others involved in the trial process, who discussed fraud issues at recent white-collar crime conferences.
Western Australia's Director of Public Prosecutions, John McKechnie QC, will attend the meeting.