Report On Justice System Released by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse

Wednesday 16 August 2017 @ 11.58 a.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse ('the Commission') has released its report on 14 August 2017, titled ‘Criminal Justice’. The report includes 85 recommendations aimed at improving the response of the criminal justice system to address victims of institutional child sexual abuse. The report focuses on recommendations to improve the criminal justice system and responses to victims by the police and courts.

Issues Addressed

The Commission addressed the general issue of low reporting rates, high attrition rates, lower charging and prosecution rates, fewer convictions and fewer guilty pleas. It addressed issues of delay in reporting leading to lower sentences, lower conviction rates because of exclusion of evidence from multiple victims who were abused at a similar time. In addition, the Commission addressed the issue of institutional abuse within schools or religious institutions, noting that in many cases, perpetrators were protected by the institution and moved from school to school in order to protect them.

Key Recommendations

Some of the key recommendations include:

  • States and territories should introduce legislation so that sentences for child sexual abuse offences are set with regard to the time of the sentencing rather than the time of offending;
  • The reform of laws to allow greater use of evidence by multiple victims in relation to a single alleged perpetrator (tendency and coincidence evidence) and joint trials;
  • The failure to report child sexual abuse within institutions should be a uniform criminal offence, and this should extend to information received in the context of religious confessionals;
  • The failure to protect a child within an institution from a substantial risk of sexual abuse by a person associated within the institution should be made a criminal offence;
  • Police responses and courtroom experiences for victims should be improved;
  • The available judicial directions should be improved;
  • Sentencing elements should be improved, primarily by excluding good character evidence as a mitigating factor; and
  • The interaction between criminal justice and regulatory responses should be improved in order to improve the overall response to institutional abuses.

Controversy over Recommendation of Mandatory Reporting

The Commission stated in its report:

“The right to practice one's religious beliefs must accommodate civil society's obligation to provide for the safety of all and, in particular, children's safety from sexual abuse. Institutions directed to caring for and providing services for children, including religious institutions, must provide an environment where children are safe from sexual abuse. Reporting information relevant to child sexual abuse to the police is critical to ensuring the safety of children.”

The extension of mandatory reporting to reports of abuse heard within a religious confessional has received the most attention, and the Catholic Church has indicated that it will oppose any legislative changes in this regard. Attorney-General George Brandis responded to the Commission’s report by saying: “The law does and always has protected certain categories of intimate professional relationships.” He stated that there were issues of religious freedom to consider as well. NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said that the NSW Government would carefully consider the recommendations.

Submissions to Model Bill

The Commission has also released a model Bill, which is currently open for submissions. It is titled the Evidence (Tendency and Coincidence) Model Provisions, which proposes to amend the Uniform Evidence Laws in the relevant states and territories. The purpose of the Bill will be to allow the use of tendency or coincidence evidence in situations where there are multiple but unrelated victims and a single perpetrator. CEO of the Commission, Philip Reed, said:

"There the only evidence of child sexual abuse offences is the complainant’s evidence, it is likely to be more difficult for the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the offences occurred because the jury is effectively considering the account of one person against the account of another. If other complainants or witnesses are able to give evidence that the accused also sexually abused them as a child – considered to be tendency or coincidence evidence - this may help the jury to be satisfied of the accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt."

The model Bill is currently open for public submissions.

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Royal Commission into Institutional Child Sexual Abuse, ‘Criminal Justice Report,’ released on 14 August 2017, and other associated materials.

Michael Salter, ‘Royal commission provides a vital blueprint for justice for sex abuse victims – now it’s time to act,’ The Conversation, 15 August 2017.

Melissa Davey and agencies, 'Melbourne archbishop says he'd rather go to jail than report child abuse heard in confession,' The Guardian Australia, 15 August 2017.

Kristen Gelineau, AAP, ‘Australian inquiry: Priests should report abuse confessions,’ ABC News, 14 August 2017.

Stephanie Anderson and Jessica Kidd, ‘Child abuse royal commission: Bishops oppose forcing priests to report details heard in confession,’ ABC News, 14 August 2017.

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