Proposed pandemic bill is ‘greatest challenge to the rule of law’ in decades: Victorian Bar

President Christopher Blanden QC confirmed that the organisation was not consulted on the bill

Proposed pandemic bill is ‘greatest challenge to the rule of law’ in decades: Victorian Bar

A recently proposed bill that grants the Victorian premier new pandemic declaration powers has been called the “greatest challenge to the rule of law” facing Victoria in decades, according to Victorian Bar President Christopher Blanden QC.

Blanden slammed the legislation, saying that it “confers draconian powers authorising virtually unlimited interference with the liberties of Victorians.” He highlighted a number of provisions within the new pandemic legislation that he described as problematic.

Among these were the granting of “very broad power on authorised officers without effective review or oversight, granting police power to enter premises without a warrant and abrogating privilege against self-incrimination.” The Victorian Bar pointed out that the bill grants “effectively unlimited power” to the health minister to “rule the state by decree, for an indefinite period, and without effective judicial or parliamentary oversight.”

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“The bill lacks the appropriate checks and balances to ensure the proper exercise of these powers. A reasonable period for discussion and debate of this bill is necessary. There is simply no excuse for pushing it through in the way it has been,” Blanden said.

He confirmed that the organisation had not been consulted on the legislation, despite the health minister’s bill summary naming the Victorian Bar as one of the external stakeholders that participated in targeted consultation conducted by the department and an Expert Reference Group (ERG).

“This is a gross misrepresentation. The Victorian Bar was not consulted. I participated in a 45-minute Microsoft Teams meeting organised by the Department of Health on 28 June 2021. The broad issue of the declaration of pandemics was raised. There was no further contact,” Blanden said. “The Victorian Bar was never provided with a draft bill.” 

He added that while two Victorian Bar Council members had been registered for an hour-long “consultation workshop” with the ESG on 28 September, the workshop “was cancelled at short notice and was never rescheduled.”

The Legislative Council debated the bill last Thursday.

 

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