Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 3 Hansard (24 March) . . Page.. 768 ..
MR HUMPHRIES: Mr Berry's failure to address my invitation indicates very clearly that he acknowledges that this is the first time we have done so.
Mr Speaker, I want to put a couple of other arguments which are very important in this debate and which, again, I have to plead with members to listen to very carefully. If we pass today this legislation to reimpose a criminal liability where one has ceased to exist, to cancel an immunity, this will not be the first time that we will have to consider this issue and to consider doing just that. This issue is going to come back in similar forms to be done again and again and again. I want to cite a particular case which has just come to light and which relates to a matter which was published in a Law Society journal just a couple of weeks ago. It relates to a piece of legislation which was passed back in 1976 by the Commonwealth Government - I think it was called the Sexual Offences Ordinance - and which applied to the ACT. It created certain offences in relation to certain sexual acts and it imposed a limitation period on the bringing of action against people for those particular offences - a 12-month limitation period. The legislation was repealed, I understand, in 1985, again by the Commonwealth Government. However, it was not repealed to the extent that it also repealed the limitation period. So, offences that may have been committed during that period up to 1985, as I understand it, could still be prosecuted except for a limitation period of 12 months.
My advice at this stage - it is only preliminary advice - is that apparently nobody noticed that limitation period having remained and it is possible that there are citizens in this Territory who have been prosecuted for offences under those provisions, who may even have been given prison sentences, whose prosecutions, in fact, were statute barred, illegal. Mr Speaker, I might advise the Assembly now - - -
Mr Berry: It is a matter for the courts.
MR HUMPHRIES: No, it is not a matter for the courts, Mr Speaker. It is a matter for me as Attorney-General. I will tell you now that if it is apparent to me that there are people in prison at the moment arising out of a prosecution which was statute barred and which people were unaware of, I will let them out of gaol, if that comes to my attention, as is my duty. The reverse question, though, is given rise to here.
Mr Berry: No.
MR HUMPHRIES: Yes, it is. Listen to me, Mr Berry. You are spouting off without knowing what you are talking about. Listen to what I have to say. It is possible that there are people who could have committed offences between 1976 and 1985 and who might today be capable of being prosecuted under those provisions, except for the statute barring of those provisions. We could be asked by some citizen who comes forward saying, "A member of my family was sexually molested by this person - - -
Mr Berry: Will you table the document?
MR HUMPHRIES: I have not got a document yet, Mr Berry.