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Top-tier firms pave way for reform of sexual assault laws

Top-tier firms pave way for reform of sexual assault laws

A pro bono project involving Clayton Utz, Freehills and Blake Dawson has led to greater protections for victims of sexual assault in NSW during court cases.The three firms worked with Director…

A pro bono project involving Clayton Utz, Freehills and Blake Dawson has led to greater protections for victims of sexual assault in NSW during court cases.

The three firms worked with Director of Public Prosecutions and the Women's Legal Services NSW to produce a report that prompted the NSW Government to introduce reforms to Sexual Assault Communication Privilege [SACP] into Parliament. Those reforms were passed this week.

"We wanted to provide victims of sexual assault with a path to access privacy provisions during the criminal trial process," David Hillard, the pro bono partner at Clayton Utz, said.

Since early 2009, the three top-tier firms have worked with the Women's legal Service and members of the Bar Association in representing over 90 victims of sexual assault, compiling data and statistics which were then used to reform the SACP.

Victims of sexual assault in NSW now have greater protections with regard to the release of records of confidential counseling sessions during the trial process, with safeguards in place to make victims more aware of their rights to oppose the production of counseling records in court.

Sexual assault victims will now be given the automatic right to argue that their counselling records are privileged and therefore cannot be accessed by the defence.

Previously, the record holder, such as a hospital, employer, school or government agency, had to stand up in court and oppose releasing the information.

"Before these reforms, Legal Aid was not available for many victims of sexual assault when arguing for privilege," Hillard said. "We now have victims of sexual assault able to get access to safeguards and funding that simply wasn't available before."

NSW Attorney-Genral John Hatzistergos has also announced that specialist victims advocacy services will receive $4.4 million over the next four years to provide free legal representation for victims in fighting applications by defence counsel to subpoena their records.

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