1. Betty and Maria Matsoukatidou were both fined (Betty with a conviction).
2. Betty and Maria had appealed to the County Court but the appeals were struck out for non-attendance.
3. Maria and Betty sought judicial review of the orders of the County Court judge, on the grounds that, in the way that the hearing was conducted, the judge failed to ensure Maria’s human rights to equality under section 8(3), and both Maria and Betty’s rights to a fair hearing under section 24(1) of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic.) (the Charter).
4. Equality before the law is the principle under which all people are subject to the same laws and treated in a manner where they believe that they are being treated equally and without discrimination.Justice Bell identified that Maria’s learning disability diminished her ability to participate effectively in the hearing, including her capacity to communicate with the judge.
5. Bell found that the County Court judge should have made certain adjustments and accommodations to the procedures that were adopted. This had the effect of disadvantaging her and, consequently, her right to equality had been breached.
6. Everyone is entitled to a fair hearing, that is, everyone has the opportunity to present their side of a dispute and make use of consistent rules of evidence and procedure to reach an outcome. Justice Bell identified that self-represented parties are usually disadvantaged in legal proceedings. Consequently, a judge has a dutyto ensure a fair trial by providing certain advice and assistance to ensure that they effectively participated in the hearing. Justice Bell found that Maria and Betty’s hearing in the County Court was conducted too quickly for their comprehension, adding to the disadvantage they experienced. Maria and Betty should not have been prevented from explaining how the loss of their home to arson had affected their participation in the criminal legal process. The loss of their home would have been a traumatic event for them. As the County Court judge failed to give Maria and Betty advice and assistance to ensure their effective participation in the hearing and equality with the party that was legally represented, their rights to a fair hearing were breached.
7. Access refers to the legal system being available and accessible to all members of the community. Betty and Maria were represented pro bono (legal representation without payment) in the Supreme Court hearing. They were also able to appeal the decisions of the court when they were not satisfied with the outcome of their case.