Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1996 Week 7 Hansard (20 June) . . Page.. 1976 ..
(AMENDMENT) BILL 1996
Debate resumed from 18 June 1996, on motion by Mr Humphries:
That this Bill be agreed to in principle.
MS FOLLETT (11.45): The Opposition is very pleased to be supporting this Bill. Mr Speaker, I might say on that subject that it gives me genuine pleasure that so much of the law reform agenda, which I regard as necessary in the Territory, appears to be common ground, at least between the major parties. It was during the very earliest days of self-government that the use of closed-circuit television was first trialled in the ACT for child witnesses before our courts. The ACT at that time was something of a pioneer in the use of closed-circuit television, and the idea has been taken up by other jurisdictions since that time.
The Bill that Mr Humphries has presented to us actually extends for a period of two years a trial of the use of closed-circuit television for sexual assault cases. Mr Speaker, I give my full support to this trial because I believe that it has the potential to substantially reduce the trauma that is suffered by sexual assault victims in taking their cases to court. I would echo the finding of the Community Law Reform Committee when they said that the two greatest fears of sexual assault victims were being cross-examined in court and having to confront the alleged assailant in court. I think that the use of the closed-circuit television arrangements for the victim to give evidence has a great deal of potential to reduce the trauma and to substantially address at least one of the issues raised by the Community Law Reform Committee.
Mr Speaker, over the years that I have been interested in the law as it relates to sexual assault, there have been a great many changes take place. We have seen, for instance, debate and changes occurring in regard to the use of what used to be called - I do not know whether it still is - a hand-up brief, an unsworn statement by the accused. We have also seen changes made in the admissibility of evidence relating to the victim's sexual history, and so on. I think that these changes have made for a much fairer hearing for victims of sexual assault. I believe that the capacity to give evidence via closed-circuit television also is a move to try to bring greater fairness for the victims in these sorts of trials.
Mr Speaker, the overwhelming majority of victims in sexual assault trials are women and, of course, children. I believe that we still have a long way to go before women and children are treated fully as equals before the law in this country. However, I think that this trial is a step in the right direction. I support it totally. Indeed, Mr Speaker, I hope that we see further evidence of this kind of law reform coming through from the Government. I commend the Government on going ahead with this trial and, as I say, I fully support the Bill.