The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) is today releasing a report suggesting an ambitious agenda for law reform over the next five years. The report will be launched by the current ALRC President, the Hon Justice Sarah Derrington, and the inaugural ALRC Chairman, Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG, in the Commonwealth Law Courts Building in Brisbane.
The report highlights five areas of law suggested for an ALRC review. If accepted by the Attorney-General, the report could map out the work of the ALRC over the next five years.
The five law reform topics identified by the ALRC are:
- principle-based regulation of financial services;
- automated decision making and administrative law;
- press freedom and public sector whistleblowers; and
- legal structures for social enterprises.
The Hayne Royal Commission identified an urgent need to simplify the law in order to regulate more effectively the financial services industry. Legislation needs to identify more clearly the principles underlying specific provisions, to ensure the intent of the law can be understood and followed. An ALRC inquiry could make a significant contribution by demonstrating how this could be achieved in practice. This would build on the ALRC’s current inquiry into Corporate Crime.
Automated decision making is increasingly common in our society, including in government departments. Algorithms and artificial intelligence may present opportunities for more efficient and accurate government decisions, but have also been the subject of controversy. An ALRC inquiry could examine whether the law could better safeguard fair and transparent outcomes.
Defamation laws have struggled to come to terms with modern developments in technology and communications. There is also ongoing debate about the appropriate balance between freedom of expression and the protection of reputation. In recent years, federal courts have increasingly handled defamation disputes, traditionally the work of state courts. By conducting an independent federal defamation inquiry, the ALRC could build on the work of other government-led reviews.
Press freedom and protections for whistleblowers have been hotly debated in recent months. An ALRC inquiry could shed light on whether any changes to the law may be required to appropriately protect press freedom, and whether changes are needed to make laws protecting public sector whistleblowers clearer and more effective.
Social enterprises are organisations that seek to make money, but are also committed to social or environmental goals. It has been suggested that existing legal structures fail to reflect the needs of social enterprises. An ALRC inquiry would examine whether new corporate structures should be introduced.
President of the ALRC, the Hon Justice Sarah Derrington, said, “It is the first time the ALRC has formally sought the views of the Australian public on future inquiry topics. Their input has enriched the process and given a real sense of the legal issues that concern them. We gratefully acknowledge the many individuals who have voluntarily contributed their time and expertise to this project.”
Justice Derrington further noted, “In suggesting these five inquiry topics, the ALRC is not pre-judging the merits of any particular views, but is setting out areas of contention that could benefit from further examination.”
The process of preparing the report has involved extensive research and consultation. The ALRC released two preliminary research papers, held six public seminars and webinars around Australia, conducted an online survey and received over 400 responses, involved law students from two universities in research, and held a number of consultations with stakeholders including government departments.
The report highlights that the best inquiry topics are those that play to the particular strengths of the ALRC, including independence from government, impartiality, legal expertise, and a transparent consultative process.
The full report is available for download.
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