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Landmark child abuse reforms pass Parliament

A milestone reform to NSW law will see victims of child sexual assault get a “fairer go in court” in a nationwide first.

user iconTony Zhang 04 June 2020 Big Law
Mark Speakman
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The Evidence Amendment (Tendency and Coincidence) Act 2020 is designed to allow evidence about an accused person’s sexual interest in children, including the evidence used in prior convictions, to be considered by the jury in child sexual assault proceedings.

The new legislation, which passed State Parliament on Wednesday, 3 June was created in response to the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

The commission found the exclusion of such evidence had led to unwarranted acquittals and barriers preventing offenders from being held to account.

 
 

Attorney-General Mark Speakman said this was an important achievement for survivors of child sexual assault.

“Today marks a significant milestone in our fight against the scourge of child sexual abuse,” Mr Speakman said.

“The Evidence Amendment (Tendency and Coincidence) Act 2020 will enable more evidence about an accused person’s sexual interest in children to be considered by the jury in child sexual assault proceedings.”

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse found the exclusion of this kind of evidence led to cases of unwarranted acquittals in child sexual offence proceedings. 

It recommended law reform to enable greater admissibility of this evidence in those proceedings. 

“While these reforms cannot undo the crimes of the past, or take away a survivor’s pain, they will [help deliver] justice for survivors across NSW,” Mr Speakman said.

Uniform Evidence Law jurisdictions agreed to implement a Model Bill at the Council of Attorneys-General meeting in November last year, following a two-year law reform process led by NSW.

NSW is the first jurisdiction in Australia to introduce the Model Bill and now leads the way for other Uniform Evidence Law states and territories to follow in its footsteps.

Mr Speakman called on other states and territories to introduce the same reforms.

“We want to ensure that our criminal justice system is a fair one. These reforms will enable relevant evidence to be put before the court, while also maintaining appropriate safeguards to ensure the right to a fair trial,” he said.

“The NSW government has led the nation in its response to the recommendations of the royal commission. I call on other states and territories to follow NSW’s lead and introduce these crucial reforms.”

It comes as the state government proposes additional legal changes, seeking to further protect young people from exploitation and reform forensic mental health laws.

Special care offences – applying to adults in positions of authority who engage in sexual activity with 16 or 17-year-olds in their care – would be broadened under one government bill being introduced to Parliament.

Existing special care offences criminalise adults engaging in such activity within certain family relationships, at schools and other educational institutions, youth justice centres and in the provision of health care.

The reforms will commence on 1 July 2020.