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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 13 Hansard (Tuesday, 27 November 2018) . . Page.. 4875 ..

The bill also creates a procedure for allowing for the charging of child sexual offences as courses of conduct. This means that the impacts of memory recall, particularly when there has been sustained, persistent sexual abuse, are recognised. The ability to charge a course of conduct means that a young person can describe a pattern of behaviour over several months. A discrete time, place and allegation for each alleged incident will not be required for the charge. This mechanism limits the rights in criminal proceedings under section 22(2)(a) of the Human Rights Act 2004, which requires that anyone charged with a criminal offence is entitled to be told promptly and in detail about the nature and reason for the charge. This is also known as adequate particulars for a charge.

The difficulty of victims in recalling precise and exact particulars of persistent sexual abuse committed many years earlier is unfortunately not uncommon in child sexual offence matters. The royal commission noted that to require complainants to delineate separate, and specific, acts of “largely indistinguishable occasions of abuse” years after the abuse happened is “at best an artificial exercise that does not convey the nature of the abuse they endured and, at worst, impossible”. Allowing complainants of historical child sexual abuse the ability to access justice in a way that recognises the trauma and impact of the abuse supports the operation of justice and equality before the law for those victims.

Additionally, to better recognise the shift in attitudes towards sexual offending against children, the bill amends sentencing legislation to ensure that current sentencing practices are applied when sentencing for historical offences. Importantly, the bill does not change penalties that applied to the offence when it was committed, so the offender will be subject to current sentencing patterns and practices but no greater maximum penalty than that applying at the time of the offending.

Finally, the bill makes broad changes to the Evidence (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, the E(MP)A, to improve access to justice for vulnerable witnesses, to allow better responses for children and their support networks when allegations of a crime are made and to improve the timeliness and experience of giving evidence for children in particular. The royal commission emphasised that the complainant’s ability to give “clear and credible evidence is critically important to any criminal investigation and prosecution”. The changes to the E(MP)A go a long way to securing early evidence from complainants and their support networks to not only obtain the best evidence but also help survivors move on from the abuse. The structure of the E(MP)A has been updated and streamlined. The new structure retains the existing special measures and the readability of the E(MP)A. This has the benefit of making the provisions more accessible for people in the justice system.

Madam Deputy Speaker, this bill is yet another example of the government’s solemn commitment to take responsibility and to implement the findings of the royal commission. We will keep working to improve our legal system and we will keep demonstrating, in our words, in our actions and in our laws, that protecting children is our absolutely priority. I commend this bill to the Assembly.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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