Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (23 October) . . Page.. 4054 ..
Many people in our community feel that the rights of the victim not only in this area but also in other areas are not properly recognised. The opposition is happy to support this measure because it goes some way towards ensuring that the rights of the victim-the legitimate rights of the victim-are protected. A complainant should not have to contemplate disclosing to the very person accused of sexually assaulting them in the first place, in an open court, records that contain very private aspects of their lives-aspects that may be completely irrelevant to the matter at hand.
Conversely, of course, we see no problem with the prosecution having access to any particular notes relevant to the prosecution, and these should be put before the court in terms of evidence should the prosecution wish that to occur. But there is not a justifiable reason for the defence to have detailed counselling notes on other very private matters that have no relevance whatsoever to the particular case. The records, as the attorney says, could contain thoughts and statements that may never even be shared with the closest of friends or family. The records could contain an exploration of the complainant's fears and feelings arising from the assault, and this would compound what is already a very traumatic incident by adding trauma on top of trauma.
So we are happy to see the government take this particular step. It does bring us into line with what applies across the border in New South Wales, and it is a very strong view of this opposition that the government should be as consistent as possible, especially in the criminal law jurisdiction, with that of New South Wales, a state that has adopted, to its credit, a most robust approach in its criminal justice system.
The amendments here no way restrict, as I indicated earlier, the legitimate rights of an accused to a fair trial, but they do go some way in further protecting the legitimate rights of a victim. I am pleased to see that the DPP has been properly consulted on this and is supportive of the amendments.
In relation to the other parts of the bill, I note that it does contain some housekeeping amendments that have been referred to already by the attorney.
We believe this bill strikes a reasonable balance and goes some way towards protecting the legitimate rights of victims of sexual assault, which have been neglected for too long, and we recommend the government not lose its momentum in terms of adopting sensible New South Wales criminal reforms but emulate our neighbour and back up major criminal law reforms as suggested by this opposition in the various bills before the house.
MS DUNDAS(5.21): Mr Deputy Speaker, this bill deals with the rather difficult subject of the use of counselling notes in sexual offence cases. Sexual assault is, without a doubt, a most traumatic experience physically, emotionally and mentally. For many victims, professional counselling is a vital part of recovering from the trauma. An essential part of this counselling is its confidential nature. With the possibility that counselling notes may be subpoenaed by the courts, a reluctance to seek counselling does exist in some people's eyes and there are already cases where counsellors have stopped taking notes so that they do not have to breach client confidentiality.