Is community welfare paramount in drug criminalisation? An examination of drug laws and policies in New South Wales

Presently, NSW drug policy operates under the National Drug Strategy 2017-2026. This resource sets out approaches for preventing and minimising alcohol, tobacco and other drug-related health, social and economic harms. One of these strategies includes supply reduction through preventing or disrupting the illicit supply of drugs and precursors. This National policy operates in the context of the criminalisation of the use and supply of certain illicit drugs. These drug laws exist within various offences under the Commonwealth (e.g. Criminal Code, Customs Act) and State laws (e.g. Drug Misuse and Trafficking Act, Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act). This blog will argue that a close examination of drug-related offences reveals the endorsement of community welfare as central to public policy in NSW.  

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Highlights from the Committee’s 2021 Careers in Criminal Law Panel

The Panel

On Monday 20 September 2021, the NSW Young Lawyers Criminal Law Committee hosted a ‘Careers in Criminal Law Panel’, featuring the following panellists:

  • Angela Cooney: National Practice Director of Criminal Law at Armstrong Legal.
  • Arizona Hart: Policy Officer at the Secretariat for the NSW Law Reform Commission and the NSW Sentencing Council.
  • Matthew Harper: Senior Solicitor at the NSW Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
  • Garrett Bithell: Trial Advocate at the Aboriginal Legal Service.
  • Rory Pettit: Barrister at Forbes Chambers.

Highlights from the Panel

Throughout the event, the panellists provided the participants with valuable insights into a career in criminal law – the highlights are below.

Careers Advice

  • Test the waters so that you can see what practice is like beyond in the classroom in the real world. Also be picky about your employers. Do your research so that you can work for an employer that aligns with your values. 
  • Being a lawyer extends beyond being a court advocate. If you would prefer to be away from the courtroom and like conducting in-depth research, back yourself and follow your passion into other areas of law such as legal policy.
  • A move from the city to the country (or vice versa) turned out to be very significant and rewarding decision for a few panellists. A move to a regional area can lead to experiences such as appearing in a demountable building and conferencing clients on the bonnet of your car. Move out of your comfort zone and have the courage to make decisions that scare you!
  • Panellists recommended trying both defence and prosecution roles if you have the opportunity to do so. For example, working in defence can helps you understand why people end up before the court, and thus fuels compassion.
  • Specialist accreditation in criminal law through the Law Society of New South Wales is relevant and likely to be well-respected amongst peers.  Working as a Judge’s Associate is a great job to develop advocacy skills and to get a feel for how the Court runs.

Dealing with confronting material

  • Criminal law can include confronting or graphic material, although not all the time!
  • There is no miracle cure for dealing with confronting material but you will get better at using effective strategies for coping with such material. Draw on support from your colleagues and the network of criminal lawyers and know when to ask for help. 
  • Be honest when you are not ok. Take time off regularly. Have friends who are not criminal lawyers, because this puts things into perspective.  Engaging in exercise or a hobby can be great.
  • Choose to look at graphic material at the ‘right’ time – not when you are already feeling especially vulnerable.
  • Remember that it is ok to feel upset and that you are doing important work, which can help keep you going in the dark times. Always ask for help if you need it.

The most rewarding aspects of a career in criminal law

  • Criminal law is very person focused. Helping people, no matter how serious it is, is an extremely rewarding aspect of criminal law.
  • Being able to figure out a legal puzzle for yourself, even if other lawyers before you have already worked it out and persuading an audience to agree with your point of view.
  • The people you work with in criminal law are generally warm and intelligent. Criminal law tends to attract compassionate people.
  • Being someone’s representative in court is an awesome responsibility. There is an element of performance in what criminal law advocates do and that is exciting.
  • Your clients teach you so much.  They teach you resilience, strength, and entirely new perspectives. Being the best lawyer you can be for your clients is very rewarding
  • Working in criminal law legal policy is incredibly satisfying, especially when your recommendations are accepted.

What law students and graduates can be doing to give themselves a head start in criminal law

  • Tailor your CV and cover letter to each position. Firms can differentiate between general applications and targeted applications. Tell the firm why you want to work in criminal law – make your interest, aptitude and passion clear.
  • Your work experience doesn’t have to be formal experience – tell the employer about any research work you’ve been involved in, activism, societies etc.
  • If you’re a student, volunteer and network with those in the industry who will teach you the core skills you need to understand criminal law. For example, the Aboriginal Legal Service has an excellent volunteering program.
  • Apply and be willing to move to regional areas. You will get much more experience much more quickly than if you solely apply and work in the city.

The Criminal Law Committee is extremely grateful to the webinar’s panellists, who gave up their evening to share their valuable advice with so many aspiring criminal lawyers.

Expert evidence of battered women syndrome in New South Wales

Despite being criminalised over forty years ago, domestic violence remains widespread throughout Australian society. As this offence primarily occurs in the domicile and away from the public eye, the Australian legal system has recognise the complex and unique impacts the offending has upon its victims. Following scientific and empirical research, Australia courts have permitted expert opinion evidence to be adduced in criminal trials relating to the impact of domestic violence on the accused. One of the most contentious and notorious examples of this evidence is ‘battered women syndrome’ (BWS). This blog will examine this concept in detail, discussing how it remains vital and relevant in New South Wales’ criminal trials.

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Distinguishing between lawful and unlawful arrests by the police in New South Wales

The Law Enforcement and Police Responsibilities Act 2002 (NSW) (‘LEPRA’) confers on Police the power to arrest persons in the State of New South Wales. In broad terms, an ‘arrest’ is the act of detaining an individual and depriving him/her of their liberty. Whilst civilians can make lawful arrests in certain circumstances, this post deals exclusively with Police powers of arrest. Continue reading “Distinguishing between lawful and unlawful arrests by the police in New South Wales”

Distinguishing between legal and illegal police searches of a person in New South Wales

The Law Enforcement and Police Responsibilities Act 2002 (‘LEPRA’) is the primary legislation for police powers in NSW. This legislation contains various threshold tests and legal concepts that exist to guide police when exercising investigative procedures on a person suspected of committing an offence. This post will examine the legal significance of consent, warrants, and ‘reasonable suspicion’ in the context of police search powers. Also, I will examine the legal safeguards in order to clarify the distinction between a lawful and unlawful search.

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Section 138 of the Evidence Act: the power to exclude illegally obtained evidence

Under the Evidence Act s 138 illegally obtained evidence may be admissible. This decision depends on the trial judge’s discretionary assessment of whether ‘desirability of admitting the evidence outweighs the undesirability of admitting it, based on a number of competing factors. The provision for the discretionary power does not define ‘desirability’. Instead, it is interpreted and applied on a case-by-case basis. This post will examine the discretionary power, discussing the operation of common law and statute, and how judicial discretion is necessary to its application.

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Pell v The Queen – unreasonable verdicts and ‘beyond reasonable doubt’

In Pell v The Queen the High Court has unanimously allowed an appeal from the Victorian Court of Appeal’s (VCA) majority decision to reject a conviction appeal.

The High Court held that the jury should have held reasonable doubts about the guilt of the accused.

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