DROPPED COVID PROSECUTION REVIEW

Amendments to Victoria’s OHS and Inquiries Act are being considered to ensure the viability of certain OHS prosecutions following the withdrawal of COVID-related charges against the State Department of Health.

The charges were dropped because key evidence provided to an earlier inquiry was deemed inadmissible in court under section 80 of the Inquiries Act. Section 80 states any ‘answer, information, document, or other thing given or produced to a Board of Inquiry by a person... is not admissible in evidence, or otherwise able to be used, against the person in any other proceedings’ (with very limited exceptions).

WorkSafe expressed deep disappointment over the development and plans to review the matter with a view to potentially recommending legislative changes that ensure it can properly fulfill its compliance and enforcement role.

WorkSafe had charged the Health Department with multiple breaches of sections 21 and 23 of our OHS Act after COVID outbreaks caused by quarantine failures led to hundreds of deaths during Victoria’s second wave in 2020.

Despite initially finding sufficient evidence for trial, the case was dropped after the Department successfully argued that evidence provided to the inquiry was not admissible in court.

This situation highlights the complexity of legal procedures surrounding OHS prosecutions and inquiries.

Source: OHS Alert, 2 May

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