Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2011 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 15 November 2011) . . Page.. 5255 ..
In the absence of case law to the contrary, and in accordance with the ACT’s commitment to implementing the model evidence law without substantive variation, this bill sees the ACT implementing the uniform privilege unchanged. However, I believe that there would be value in considering an amendment to the privilege to further clarify the intention. Any amendments to the uniform law must be considered at the national level, and officers from the justice directorate have commenced that process through consultation with officers in other jurisdictions.
The Law Society’s other concerns about the operation of the privilege with existing full disclosure provisions in ACT legislation are proposed to be addressed in an upcoming bill, the fourth and last bill for the evidence reforms.
When an exposure draft of the bill was first circulated to key stakeholders in April, comments strongly supporting the privilege were received from the Women’s Legal Centre and the Domestic Violence Crisis Service. To understand the importance of this reform for some of the most vulnerable parties in our justice system it is perhaps useful for members to reflect on some of the comments received from these organisations.
In their submission the Women’s Legal Centre indicated that many of their vulnerable and traumatised clients have the potential to benefit from the privilege. Their clients develop relationships of trust with counsellors and social workers, in some cases over an extended period of time, and often disclose extensive details relating to current and past trauma. For many clients, the disclosure of these very personal records brings the threat of re-traumatisation. The centre also recognised the very real possibility that the threat of such disclosure, or a past experience of disclosure, can prevent a client from accessing support services which are crucial to their ongoing physical and mental health.
The Domestic Violence Crisis Service indicated their delight and relief that the ACT was now moving to adopt this privilege. The service have experienced firsthand the difficulties arising when these records are subpoenaed. They welcome the changes which will provide clarity to the protection that is afforded to the client information held by their organisation.
The final set of reforms to be established in the ACT includes mutual recognition of self-incrimination certificates issued in other jurisdictions, the clarified operation of the professional confidential relationship privilege to journalists, and provision for people to be considered “unavailable” when they are mentally or physically unable to give evidence.
I would now like to discuss the reforms in the bill which continue the operation of the commonwealth’s specific journalist privilege in the territory. As members would be aware, journalist shield laws have received a lot of attention in recent years, with growing recognition of the vital role that journalists play in ensuring an open and democratic society. Freedom of the press is an essential safeguard for the public in ensuring accountability in government.