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NSW to amend concealment laws

The NSW is set to amend concealment laws to allow victims to access support without fearing their counsellor will have to report to the police or face criminal prosecution.

user iconTony Zhang 22 September 2020 Politics
NSW to amend concealment laws
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The NSW government is moving to amend laws that compel counsellors to report cases of sexual assault to the police because they can deter some survivors, who do not want the authorities involved, from seeking help.

The government is acting to reform the laws that carry a two to five-year jail sentence for failing to notify the police of a serious indictable offence.

Laws that compel counsellors to report cases of sexual assault will be amended under an NSW government review, a move welcomed by legal and rape services bodies. 

 
 

The NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman, said an amendment would be introduced into Parliament to exempt adult cases of sexual violence and family violence where the individual does not want the matter reported to the police.

Mr Speakman said the current law put support workers in a “terrible predicament” and created a barrier between those who needed help and those trying to help them.

“We want to ensure that victims receive the support they need without fearing that the person helping them may act against their wishes or face criminal prosecution,” Mr Speakman said. 

“Worst of all, it may even deter victims from seeking support if they fear their confidentiality may be broken when they share their story.

“[These laws] can put people in a terrible predicament and drive a wedge between the people who need help and the people who are there to help them."

The reforms will create a “reasonable excuse” for not informing the authorities when a counsellor has a reasonable belief that the alleged victim does not want to report, the offence is one of sexual violence or family violence, and where the person with knowledge of the crime has a reasonable belief that the “alleged victim does not wish to have the information reported to authorities”.

The push follows warnings from frontline rape and family violence services that the laws could be wrongly applied to their staff, or workers in companies or institutions, who receive complaints of sexual assault.

The Rape & Domestic Violence Services Australia executive officer, Karen Willis, said the law as it stands could force support workers to ignore the wishes of survivors and pass on their complaints to police.

Ms Willis praised the NSW government’s reforms and said the concealment offence was never intended to be applied to sexual assault or family violence offences as it had been. 

Mr Speakman said there is no indication that people meeting the proposed criteria have been charged under the current legislation, but this amendment will dispel concerns. 

“This amendment will also assist the prosecution when considering whether to charge a person for this offence,” Mr Speakman said. 

“This strikes the right balance between ensuring people are able to respect the wishes of victims while continuing to encourage the community to report serious offences.”