Judicial Proceedings Reports Amendment Bill 2021 (Vic) Introduced

Friday 13 August 2021 @ 1.55 p.m. | Judiciary, Legal Profession & Procedure | Legal Research

On 3 August 2021, the Judicial Proceedings Reports Amendment Bill 2021 (Vic) (‘the Bill’) was introduced in the Victorian Legislative Assembly by Natalie Hutchins, Minister for Victim Support (‘the Minister’).

In her second reading speech, the Minister stated that the main aim of the Bill was to:

“make important reforms to ensure that the stories of deceased victim-survivors of sexual offences can be shared with the dignity and respect that they deserve”.

Background of the Bill: The 2020 Reforms

The Bill was introduced following feedback from reforms made under the Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Act 2020 (Vic) ('the 2020 Act'), which commenced in November 2020.

The 2020 Act contained amendments to the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958 (Vic) regarding the permissions required from victim-survivors in order to publish materials about them.

An ABC News article commented that the reforms left:

“families of deceased sexual assault victims at risk of prosecution for speaking publicly about the crimes against their loved ones... families would need to go to court, at their own cost, to seek the right to talk publicly about dead sexual offence victims”.

The Minister commented that the Bill was developed in consultation with stakeholders including:

“[the] families of deceased victims, victim-survivors, advocates such as the #LetUsSpeak campaign and media representatives... [who shared] stories about the very real and profound distress that can result from placing undue restrictions on sharing a victim’s story, as well as from the reporting of details of a victim’s experience against their and their family’s wishes.”.

The Minister acknowledged that there were two opposing views on the proposed reforms. The Minister highlighted that there are families who wish to be able to speak out with the stories of the deaths of their loved ones, and there are families who would prefer privacy due to the distress and trauma of such deaths. Some also prefer privacy due to religious or cultural reasons.

Thus, the current Bill seeks to strike a balance between two perspectives on the issue. The Minister commented in her second reading speech:

“These different views and experiences are deeply felt and equally valid … There is no one-size-fits-all approach that addresses the needs of every victim and family. However, I believe the reforms in this Bill strike the right balance and do so in a way that is sensitive and respectful”.

Striking a Balance: The Provisions of the Bill 

The Bill seeks to remove the automatic prohibition on the publication of details of a victim's death, which exists under the current legislative scheme. The Minister assured that the proposed amendments would have no effect on the prohibition of publications relating to a surviving victim of sexual offences. This is because that prohibition serves the purpose of encouraging reporting of such offences by ensuring privacy for those coming forward. The Bill proposes to amend the legislation in relation to deceased victims of sexual assault only.

The Minister said that in removing the prohibition, families of deceased victims would be free to speak out about the death of their loved ones, and identify them by name without restriction. The Minister commented in her second reading speech that the Bill:

“will align the law with strong public sentiment and law reform trends that support open justice, freedom of expression and the need to raise awareness about sexual and gender-based violence”.

To strike a balance between freedom of expression, and privacy for those families that want it, the Bill proposes a new victim privacy order scheme. Under the scheme, families who would prefer identifying details to remain private may apply for a court order to restrict the publication of materials containing identifying details of a victim.

The Minister noted in her second reading speech that these orders would be made only in:

“exceptional cases, where the need for such protection outweighs the public interest in publication”.

Additionally, the Bill proposes to make it an offence to knowingly breach a victim privacy order.

Future of the Legislation 

The Minister concluded her second reading speech by acknowledging that the law in this area should continue to adapt to “ensure it is … serving the interests of victims and their families”.  The Minister stated that should the Bill be passed, there would be a review of the scheme after two years. The Minister also commented on the possibility of the victim privacy order scheme to extend to victims of other offences following further consultation.

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Judicial Proceedings Reports Amendment Bill 2021 (Vic) and explanatory materials available from TimeBase's LawOne service

Government moves to protect families who want to speak about dead sexual assault victims (ABC News, 3 August 2021)

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