The bill, introduced into state parliament last week, seeks to remedy situations where uncertainties as to particular dates prevent a person being found guilty of a crime otherwise proved to have occurred, according to the attorney-general, the Hon John Quigley.
“The provisions proposed in this bill will help improve the administration of justice, particularly for victims of child sexual abuse, by ensuring perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions,” he said.
Under existing legislation, the date on which an offence occurred needs to be established “with sufficient certainty” to enable an offender to be charged and successfully convicted, it was reported.
This becomes a problem where allegations of age-specific sexual offences span a victim’s birthday and where legislation was changed around the time of the allegations, the attorney-general noted.
Proposed amendments will resolve technical impediments to convicting perpetrators for serious offences that currently prevent prosecution and conviction, with particular regard to historical sexual offences against children.
“While this bill will have application across a range of matters where there is uncertainty of relevant days, there is no doubt that it will facilitate the successful prosecution of child sexual abuse offences,” the attorney-general explained.
“It is often a feature of child sexual abuse cases, given the historical nature of the offending and tender age of the child, that it is difficult for the victim to recall specific dates of the abuse.
“Unfortunately, there have been cases in Western Australia where perpetrators have evaded conviction as it could not be conclusively established when the offending took place.”
According to Mr Quigley’s statement, amendments will also address an anomaly of jurisdiction where neither the Children’s Court nor the Magistrates or District Courts have jurisdiction where it is uncertain whether an accused was a child or adult at the time an offence was committed, according to the statement.
In one case, a teenager accused committed sexual offences against a younger child over many years, he said, explaining that some charges were able to be commenced, but a number of charges, alleging very serious sexual offences, could not be charged because the state could not determine whether the accused was over or under 18 years of age at the time those offences were committed.
“This represents a serious miscarriage of justice and an example of the sorts of issues that this legislation will address,” the attorney-general said.