Uniform Evidence Law

Uniform Evidence Law, being ALRC 102 (2005), NSWLRC 112 and VLRC FR, represents the culmination of an eighteen-month inquiry into the operation of the uniform Evidence Acts. The inquiry commenced on the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Evidence Act 1995 (Cth) and the Evidence Act 1995 (NSW). These Acts were the product of an extensive research effort by the ALRC in the 1980s, which resulted in two reports: ALRC Interim Report, Evidence (ALRC 26) (1985);and a final report, Evidence (ALRC 38) (1987).

The primary objectives of this Inquiry are twofold: to identify and address any defects in the uniform Evidence Acts; and to maintain and further the harmonisation of the laws of evidence throughout Australia. In respect of the latter, in addition to the Commonwealth and New South Wales, Tasmania and Norfolk Island have also enacted legislation based on the uniform Evidence Act.[1] During the course of this Inquiry, the governments of Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory signalled their intention to enter into the uniform Evidence Act regime. Hence, the Inquiry has provided a strong impetus for the realisation of a truly uniform evidence regime in Australia.

This Report is a joint effort of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), the New South Wales Law Reform Commission (NSWLRC) and the Victorian Law Reform Commission (VLRC) (the Commissions). The Commissions, in consultation with the Tasmania Law Reform Institute, the Law Reform Commission of Western Australia and the Northern Territory Law Reform Committee,[2] have collaborated in this review, and in the formulation of 63 recommendations for reform.[3]

Based on the submissions received, and the consultations held, it is clear that, generally, the uniform Evidence Acts are working well, and that there are no major structural problems with the legislation, or with the underlying policy of the Acts. While areas of concern were identified, and have been addressed in this Report, the clear message conveyed to the Commissions is that a major overhaul of the uniform Evidence Acts is neither warranted nor desirable.

During the course of the Inquiry, two community consultation documents were released—an Issues Paper (IP 28) in December 2004 and a Discussion Paper (DP 69)[4] in July 2005. Numerous consultations were held in every state and territory, and 130 written submissions from a wide range of individuals and organisations were received.

The recommendations for legislative amendment contained in this Report have direct application to the Evidence Act 1995 (Cth) and the Evidence Act 1995 (NSW). In the interests of uniformity, it is expected that the recommendations will be adopted by the other participants in the uniform Evidence Act regime (Tasmania and Norfolk Island), and by those jurisdictions which subsequently enact legislation based on the uniform Evidence Acts.

In pursuit of the latter, the ALRC met on two occasions with the Attorney-General of Queensland, and representatives of the Northern Territory Department of Justice, the Western Australian Department of Justice and the South Australian Attorney-General’s Department.

At the time of publication of this Report, the governments of Victoria, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have indicated their intention to enact the uniform Evidence Act. When this occurs, the harmonisation of the laws of evidence throughout Australia will be well advanced. This, in turn, will result in a more uniform, coherent and accessible national approach to evidence law; reduced complexity and the attendant reduction in the costs associated with two evidence regimes in non-uniform Evidence Act jurisdictions; and the reform of unsatisfactory and archaic aspects of the common law.

[1] Evidence Act 2001 (Tas); Evidence Act 2004 (NI).

[2] The Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) participated in a workshop where proposals for the Discussion Paper (DP 69) were formulated. The QLRC was invited to send a representative to the workshop where the recommendations for this Report were formulated, but was not able to take up the invitation.

[3] All but two of the recommendations—Rec 5–2 and Rec 18–3—are unanimously supported by the Commissions.

[4] The Discussion Paper is ALRC Discussion Paper 69 and NSWLRC Discussion Paper 47. The VLRC does not ascribe a number to its Discussion Papers. For ease of reference in this Report, the Discussion Paper shall be referred to as ‘DP 69’, or the ‘Discussion Paper’.