A new service being run by Legal Aid Queensland, in partnership with the Women’s Legal Service, has been launched to offer assistance to victims of sexual assault.
The new service, Counselling Notes Protect, provides free legal assistance to sexual assault victims with the promise to protect their private counselling sessions from becoming public in court proceedings.
The service was officially launched by Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D'Ath to support the Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege laws introduced by the Palaszczuk government last year.
“We have a duty to do all we can to protect victims of sexual assault, and the Counselling Notes Protect service launched will help to ensure victims can get the assistance they need after an assault without fear their information will be used against them in court,” Ms D'Ath said.
“The Palaszczuk Government has committed $1.588 million over three years to Legal Aid Queensland, in partnership with the Women’s Legal Service, to provide this important service to victims.”
Under the laws introduced last year, sexual assault victims’ counselling records are protected from being available during a court case unless they or the court give permission for records to be produced, noted a statement from Ms D’Ath’s office. The court’s permission is also needed before a subpoena to access counselling notes can be issued, it added.
“Our laws aim to strike a balance between the right to a fair trial for an accused and the public interest in preserving the confidentiality of counselling communications between a victim of sexual assault and a counsellor,” Ms D’Ath said.
“Before we stepped in, private counselling sessions could be called as evidence by an accused person, which often caused further harm to the victim and may have prevented people from getting the help they need to recover from the trauma of a sexual assault.
“I’d like to thank Legal Aid Queensland and the Women’s Legal Service for their work, and I have no doubt Counselling Notes Protect will help sexual assault victims protect their rights and encourage more people to access counselling services to assist in their recovery.”