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The second amendment abolishes what is called the “year and a day” rule. At present a person cannot be convicted of murder in the Territory if the victim dies more than a year and a day after the infliction of the injury which caused the death. This common-law rule dates back to mediaeval times, when limited medical knowledge made it difficult to trace the cause of death to an injury inflicted some time before. The subsequent rapid advance of medical science has rendered the rule obsolete. Furthermore, the development of increasingly effective life support systems has had the effect of prolonging the life of victims to an extent not envisaged when the rule evolved. The rule might also prevent a conviction for murder where a person deliberately infects another person with a disease which has long-term life threatening consequences. Members will be aware of a number of hold-ups which have occurred in recent times with allegedly blood-filled syringes. Clearly, concern about HIV is an issue there. I am proposing that the Territory follow the lead of New South Wales and Victoria, which have both abolished this rule.

The third main amendment relates to certain sexual assault matters. The Crimes Act contains a number of sexual offences against children - in particular, sexual intercourse, acts of indecency and incest. There are separate offences where the child is under 10 years of age and where the child is between 10 and 16 years of age, and those offences relating to the younger age group carry more severe penalties, obviously. Occasionally, however, there may be doubt over a child's age at the time of an offence, particularly if the offence is not reported for a number of years. Consequently, where a jury is convinced about all other elements of the offence but cannot be sure as to whether the child was under or over 10 years of age, it must acquit. This rigid distinction could cause substantial injustice. This amendment, Mr Speaker, removes the lower age limit for offences against children under 16 years, so that there will be two categories of offences - offences against children under 10 and offences against children under 16. Where, in a trial for a sexual offence against a child under 10, a jury is not satisfied that the child was under that age but is satisfied that the child was under 16, the jury would be entitled to find the accused person guilty of the appropriate offence against a child under 16. A similar scheme of alternative verdicts for sexual offences against children has been in place in New South Wales for a number of years. I commend the Bill to the Assembly.

Debate (on motion by Mr Connolly) adjourned.


MR HUMPHRIES (Attorney-General) (10.38): Mr Speaker, I present the Periodic Detention Bill 1995, together with its explanatory memorandum.

Title read by Clerk.


That this Bill be agreed to in principle.

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