Victorian courts have sharply criticised Corrections Victoria for its failure to bring prisoners to court for hearings, but the agency continues to breach the rights of those in its custody.
The Herald Sun reported that Corrections Victoria has been fined 650 times since 2013 — with the total penalties approaching $500,000 — for holding people in custody rather than bringing them to their scheduled court appearances, including over $110,000 in fines in the first half of 2016.
Victoria Legal Aid said that 455 Magistrates’ Court matters were affected in the first seven weeks of 2016, with some prisoners being unable to apply for bail or missing assessments for community-based sentences.
In March, a magistrate told The Age in some cases it was more likely an accused person would attend court if they were released than if they remained in custody. “I’m releasing people — not high-risk — but I’m releasing them on bail because I can’t guarantee they’ll appear.”
The problem had not been resolved by August. After being told that a number of prisoners could not apply for bail as they had not been brought to court, Magistrate Timothy Walsh warned Corrections officers, “They can be brought in or they’ll be released on bail.”
The Victorian Government has been aware of the problem since 2014, when the Auditor-General reviewed the prisoner transport system and reported: “Increasing prisoner numbers within the justice system means that prisoners are not always transported when and where required.”
The Government has announced $14.7 million in funding to improve video link facilities at 53 courts, which it hopes will reduce congestion in the prisoner transport system. This investment supports the Justice Legislation (Evidence and Other Acts) Amendment Act 2016, which requires that most Magistrates’ Court hearings involving remand prisoners should be conducted by video link.
Section 21 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities requires that people must not be subjected to arbitrary detention, and that deprivation of their liberty must only be in accordance with procedures established by law.