Pre-court diversion a fair start but questions remain

Law Society of NSW

The Law Society of NSW has expressed qualified support for a drug diversion scheme announced last week, as a first step in improving responses to drug possession in NSW.

President of the Law Society of NSW Cassandra Banks said while expanded and strengthened drug diversion programs are welcome, the NSW Government should provide more details on the scheme’s operation and consult with experts to ensure it operates as intended.

“When commencing my term as President this year, I adopted as a priority advocating for diversion schemes. The availability of diversionary options is critical to reducing recidivism and supporting vulnerable cohorts in our community, including children, young people and those living with mental health issues,” Ms Banks said.

“These individuals can be particularly susceptible to cycling through the criminal justice system and are among the very people who would benefit most from health interventions to deal with drug issues.”

Notwithstanding in principle support for the scheme which empowers police to issue on-the-spot fines with health intervention for small quantity drug possession, the Law Society is concerned that the details of the scheme have not been shared with stakeholders.

“The Government is risking a missed opportunity for better law reform through listening to expert advice. Such consultation is crucial to the success of law reform measures, ensuring legislative amendments are workable in practice and do not result in adverse consequences. These can include inappropriately increasing the involvement of vulnerable groups with the criminal justice system,” Ms Banks said.

“Over its history of more than 180 years, the Law Society of NSW has proven a trusted advisor to government across a broad range of legal and policy issues. The Law Society’s membership includes specialist criminal law practitioners, who are well placed to bring valuable expertise to assist in developing effective criminal justice reforms, including with respect to drug diversion initiatives.”

“Important questions remain unanswered about the proposed drug diversion scheme, including how the scheme will interact with the present Cannabis Cautioning Scheme and accommodate the needs of vulnerable cohorts. Details about how the impact and effectiveness of the scheme, and the use of discretion by police, will be assessed and evaluated also remain unknown.”

Ms Banks said the Law Society is available to provide considered and expert feedback on the detail of the scheme, and on the development of future reforms to improve responses to drug possession in NSW.

/Public Release.