Page 3516 - Week 09 - Thursday, 21 August 2008
proposing fundamentally undermines the rule of law. Assertions to that effect are really a call to a motion which is unnecessary and not based on the facts.
This bill will amend the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1991 and the Magistrates Court Act 1930 to make it less stressful and traumatic for victims of sexual offences at committal proceedings and at trial. It will also provide special measures for victims of violent offences and other vulnerable witnesses when they give their evidence in court.
As I have foreshadowed and as other members have mentioned, the government will be moving a number of amendments, which I will discuss further in the detail stage of the debate.
The reforms in the bill in relation to sexual offences respond to the widely held perception that the criminal justice system fails to treat complainants with the respect they deserve. The bill recognises that it is no longer acceptable for a complainant to feel betrayed after participating in the prosecution process—the very process through which they seek justice. Victim concern about the fairness of the criminal justice system has contributed to the substantial underreporting of sexual offences. Victims themselves identify that as a major reason why they do not press forward with a complaint. This bill is aimed at alleviating some of those fears and encouraging potential victims to come forward and pursue a matter.
While it is generally accepted that victims of sexual assault offences should be protected from the stress, trauma and intimidation often associated with giving evidence, there has been a noticeable failure by legislatures generally to recognise that victims of other violent offences such as torture, threat to kill, kidnapping and stalking are also susceptible to mistreatment and revictimisation in the criminal justice process. The amendments in this field recognise that victims of certain violent crimes are also deserving of protection, to realign the balance of fairness between victims and offenders.
The reforms also introduce special measures for the giving of evidence by children and adults with an intellectual disability, acknowledging the deficit these witnesses suffer in being able to communicate in unusual environments like a courtroom.
The reforms in the bill recognise that a prosecution for a sexual or violent offence has very serious consequences for the accused and it is therefore vital to safeguard the minimum guarantees which everyone charged with a criminal offence is entitled to under international human rights law and, in particular, the Human Rights Act 2004. However, the amendments also recognise—and this is the important point, Mr Speaker—that protecting the rights of alleged offenders is not the sole purpose of the criminal justice system. The ACT community has an interest in encouraging the reporting of sexual and violent crimes and in apprehending and dealing with those who commit them. That is also an important purpose of our criminal justice system.
The significant reforms in the bill include an absolute prohibition on the calling and cross-examination at committal of children and adult sexual assault complainants. Their evidence will consist of a written statement or a transcript of a police interview. They will not be required to attend the committal to give alternative evidence or be