8 September 2020: Review of Judicial Proceedings Report Act 1958 (Vic)
For a victim of sexual assault, telling her or his story can be both an empowering and scary experience. For those victims who report their assaults to police, or tell their story in public, this recounting can be a reckoning: a moment to hold responsible the person (or people) who caused their pain.
Section 4 of the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958 (Vic) (“the Act”) was enacted in 1991, making it an offence to publish information identifying a victim of sexual assault without that person’s consent. An important intention and effect of this provision was to make it easier for victims to report their abuse to police, as many victims still feel shame about being a victim. At the same time, for a victim who did want their story to be made public, this could be done with the consent of the victim (a publisher could also apply to a court for authorisation to publish a victim’s identity). Note that permission of the court was always required for pending matters.
In February 2020, amendments to the Act took effect which had contradictory effects on different groups for victims:
- A victim who had never reported her/his assault to police can still speak publicly about her/his abuse;
- If proceedings are pending in court, then the victim must have permission from the court to ‘publish’ her/his story;
- If proceedings have finalised, and the offender was acquitted, a victim can publish her/his story;
- If the offender has been convicted, an adult victim can only publish her/his story with authorisation from the court.
If the publication of a victim’s story would identify another victim, then the story can only be published if the other victim consents.
If the victim is under 18 and the offender has been convicted, their story cannot be published. For example, a 17-year-old who writes a post on Facebook about her offender being convicted of sexual assault is committing an offence.
The Victorian Attorney-General was notified of the impact of these laws in April 2020. On 28 August 2020, the Attorney-General announced that the Government will hold ‘close consultations’ with victim-survivors in order to develop urgent amendments to the laws. However, the Victorian Law Reform Commission published a report on 4 August 2020 on contempt of court which deals with this issue; the Commission engaged in extensive consultations with victims for the report. We say that further consultations are not necessary. We already know what changes should be made to the law.
An unidentified survivor of sexual abuse believes the current legislation sends a message to victims that telling their story “was something we should be ashamed about”.
The Victorian Government can change this urgently without subjecting victims to unnecessary ‘consultations.’ We urge the Government to do so.
Angela Sdrinis Legal acknowledges the important work of Nina Funnell, Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy, End Rape on Campus Australia and Marque Lawyers who identified this issue and raised it with the Attorney-General and in the media.
By Nina Vallins & Anthie Stephanou
Solicitors at AS Legal
 Leonie Thorne, ‘Campaign by abuse survivors prompts urgent review by Victoria’s Attorney-General’, ABC News (online, 27 August 2020) < https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-08-26/letusspeak-campaign-prompts-urgent-review-sexual-laws-victoria/12599516 >.