ACT Labor to establish Industrial Magistrates Court

ACT Labor is building a better community, one which has a strong local economy, and is creating more jobs than ever before.

Canberrans enjoy a high standard of living, with record levels of investment in infrastructure which means our city is thriving. We are well prepared to meet the needs of all Canberrans by investing now in what we will need tomorrow.

But nothing is more important than the health and safety of our growing population.

Ensuring the safety of all workers is a priority for ACT Labor. This has been demonstrated by the significant reforms delivered by the ACT Labor Government in workplace health and safety.

We have fostered an industrial relations system in the ACT which encourages employers and employees to work together for safety and fairness so that workers and employers can share in the returns of our strong economy.

It is important that compliance with health and safety laws keeps pace with our growing jobs market.

We have already announced a major inquiry into ACT health and safety laws in the local construction industry to look at how we can better protect workers in this high risk industry. The inquiry will also look at how we can better inform government employers, workers and the general community about compliance with health and safety laws in the sector and to identify how we can further improve.

But there is more to do.

If re-elected in 2012, ACT Labor will establish an Industrial

Magistrate’s Court and appoint Industrial Magistrates.

It will allow for the development of greater experience and

specialisation of workplace health and safety law by the courts.

Policy costings

ACT Labor will introduce legislation to amend the Magistrates Court Act 1930 to provide for an industrial magistrates court and the appointment of Industrial Magistrates. As an existing magistrate would be appointed as an Industrial Magistrate there are no additional costs for the establishment of this new jurisdiction.

ACT Labor’s plan to establish an Industrial Magistrate’s Court.

 

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Why do we need an Industrial Magistrates Court?

In the ACT there are no specialist arrangements in place for the management of the jurisdiction related to work health and safety matters.

All other states and territories in Australia, except Tasmania, have specialist arrangements within their Magistrates Court jurisdiction for the hearing of issues related to workplace health and safety, including workplace accidents and deaths, either as part of an Industrial Magistrates Court or Division or as Industrial Magistrates.

Recognition of work health and safety jurisdiction as a specialist area will provide an opportunity for specialist procedures and attention for these matters where appropriate. The allocation of specific magistrates to this jurisdiction has the potential to increase the specialist expertise in this jurisdiction.

What happens now?

Under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 a person who holds a health and safety duty and engages in conduct that exposes an individual to whom that duty is owed to a risk of death or serious injury or illness commits an offence punishable by 5 years imprisonment and or $300,000 fine (for a person conducting a business). There are also a range of civil penalties and offences.

In the ACT the Magistrates Court has civil jurisdiction to hear and decide actions where the amount claimed is not more than $250,000.

The ACT Magistrates Court can deal with criminal offences in three broad categories:

  • All offences with a maximum penalty of up to 2 years imprisonment (summary offences);
  • Offences that carry a maximum penalty of between 2 and 5 years imprisonment where the DPP has elected for the matter to be tried summarily (indictable offence heard summarily) in such cases the magistrates sentencing jurisdiction is limited to a maximum of 2 years; and
  • Offences that carry a maximum penalty of between 5 and 10 years imprisonment where the accused consents for the matter to be tried summarily and the court is of the opinion that it can appropriately deal with the matter (indictable offence heard summarily) where the sentencing jurisdiction is 5 years.

Where the ACT Magistrates Court has heard an indictable offence summarily and at sentencing comes to the view that its sentencing jurisdiction is insufficient to deal with the matter appropriately, the ACT Magistrates Court can commit the offender to the ACT Supreme Court for sentencing. The ACT Supreme Court has sole jurisdiction to hear criminal matters involving harm to a person where the maximum penalty is greater than 10 years imprisonment.

How will it work?

ACT Labor envisages the Industrial Magistrate’s Court could be based on the Children’s Court model. Magistrates of the ACT Magistrates Court are taken to be the Children’s Court when exercising the relevant defined jurisdiction and the Magistrate exercising the jurisdiction becomes known as the Children’s Magistrate.

There is a requirement for the Chief Magistrate to declare one of the existing magistrates the Children’s Court Magistrate for a term not longer than two years. Other magistrates may also be assigned to deal with matters where there might otherwise be delay or conflict.

This model has the advantage of requiring a specific appointment as an industrial magistrate which would lead to specialisation in the area of industrial workplace accidents.

The establishment of an Industrial Magistrate in the ACT would allow for the development of a greater experience and understanding of the particular issues that arise in workplace health and safety law.

The establishment of an Industrial Magistrate’s court would also allow for the development of specific procedures and processes in this jurisdiction in order to manage the issues more effectively.

Will we consult on the preferred model?

We will engage in stakeholder discussion on the exact model and jurisdiction of the position. Stakeholder consultation will include the appropriateness of the Children’s Court model in the ACT and current models for management of work and safety laws in other states and territories.