Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 10 Hansard (14 October) . . Page.. 3109..
MR SPEAKER (Mr Cornwell) took the chair at 10.30 am and asked members to stand in silence and pray or reflect on their responsibilities to the people of the Australian Capital Territory.
MR HUMPHRIES (Treasurer, Attorney-General and Minister for Justice and Community Safety) (10.32): Mr Speaker, I present the Crimes Amendment Bill (No 2) 1999, together with its explanatory memorandum.
Title read by Clerk.
MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Speaker, I move:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
The proposed amendment to the Crimes Act 1900 abolishes the common law presumption of marital coercion. This presumption dates back to medieval times, when a man charged with a serious criminal office could claim a defence of benefit of clergy and be tried by the ecclesiastic courts. The ecclesiastic courts were viewed as a more lenient forum. A woman could not claim the same defence.
In response to this, the secular courts developed a presumption favourable to women. Where a woman committed an offence in the company of her husband, she was entitled to an acquittal unless the Crown could prove that she acted independently. The rationale for such a presumption was that the wife had no independent thought or will and acted completely at her husband's direction.
Such a notion is an anathema to modern thought. Indeed, most other jurisdictions abolished the presumption a long time ago. New South Wales abolished the presumption in 1925, and, due to Commonwealth inaction, despite a government report in 1975 and judicial comment in 1982 and 1983, the presumption has not been abolished in the ACT.
This Bill is long overdue. As soon as it was drawn to my attention I took action to address the situation. The Bill modernises a very outdated notion, one which the Director of Public Prosecutions has called "archaic and sexist". The director advised that the sooner it is removed from the ACT law the better, and that is a sentiment with which I concur and, I hope, so would other members of the Assembly. I commend the Bill to the Assembly.
Debate (on motion by Mr Stanhope ) adjourned.