State government details court plan to assist sex offence victims

Matthew Groom MP
Matthew Groom MP

The court process will be less traumatic for victims of multiple sexual offences in Tasmania if a new bill is passed by the State Parliament.

On Wednesday, acting Attorney-General Matthew Groom detailed proposed changes to the Criminal Code and Evidence acts.

If passed, the Evidence and Related Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 would see victims of multiple sexual offences required to provide evidence in one trial, rather than several – as long as the charges fell under the same indictment.

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Mr Groom also outlined the government’s intention to remove a “barrier” which prevents prosecutors from tendering evidence provided by multiple victims of a single perpetrator.

He said the state government was “committed” to supporting victims of sexual offences.

“Victims of sexual assault have already suffered enough, and these amendments are common sense changes that will help make the court process easier for victims seeking justice,” Mr Groom said.

Beyond Abuse spokesman Steve Fisher said the government’s announcement was “fantastic news”.

Mr Fisher said the introduction of joint trials would save victims from being “re-traumatised” by repeatedly reliving their abuse in court.

“The difference that makes, psychologically, is amazing,” he said.

“I can’t say enough how important it is that this bill is passed.”

Sexual Assault Support Service chief executive Jill Maxwell also welcomed the news, saying it was “long overdue”.

Ms Maxwell said separate trials for multiple sexual offences allowed defendants to plead their case in each trial “in isolation”, preventing juries from getting the full picture of a defendant’s character and conduct.

She also noted that reducing the trauma experienced by complainants was important, particularly for child victims.

Furthermore, Ms Maxwell added that joint trials would lessen the chance of complainants submitting “inadmissible” evidence.

The government introduced legislation earlier in the year that would have seen mandatory minimum sentences applied in cases of child sex offences.

It failed to garner the requisite support in the upper house.