ATTORNEY-GENERAL AFFIRMS GOVERNMENT'S COMMITMENT TO BETRAYAL OF TRUST RECOMMENDATIONS
In a wide ranging speech at the Victorian Law institute’s Conference of Council, Victoria’s Attorney General Martin Pakula confirmed that his Government was committed to implementing all of the recommendations of the Betrayal of Trust report. Mr Pakula pointed out that some of the recommendations regarding criminal sanctions had already been implemented. He said that some of the recommendations relating to changes that need to be made to the civil law were more complicated but that the Government was working on all of the "Betrayal of Trust" recommendations but at different stages. Mr Pakula said that the Government was close to releasing a new proposed bill regarding the abolition of the statute of limitations in child abuse cases (see our blog “Abolition of Limitation Periods in Child Abuse Cases). He said that some proposals regarding the implementation of the recommendations will come forward this year whilst dealing with other recommendations may need to await the outcome of the Royal Commission.
Other actions proposed by the Government which will impact on victims of child abuse include a new Jury Directions Bill. The Bill will be aimed at reducing the complexity in directions to juries being given by judges, particularly in criminal cases. Aspects of the bill which will be relevant in child abuse cases include directions on how tendency evidence should be dealt with. Tendency evidence can be crucial in securing convictions in child abuse cases. Tendency evidence, when admissible, allows the jury to rely on the fact that a person has a tendency to act in a certain way i.e. to sexually abuse children. The rules relating to the admissibility of tendency evidence are strict and in some child abuse cases, the accused has been able to successfully argue that tendency evidence should be excluded which means that trials involving multiple victims have to be heard separately making a conviction much more difficult to secure.
Mr Pakula also spoke about changes to sentencing laws and noted that incarceration rates had increased by 37%. Mr Pakula said that it was too early to tell what impact the abolition of suspended sentences would have as this change was introduced in September of last year. Similarly baseline sentencing, or mandatory sentencing as it is viewed by many lawyers, was only introduced by the previous Government two weeks before the last election. However unless changes are introduced by this Government, the abolition of suspended sentences and the introduction of baseline sentencing is likely to lead to even higher rates of incarceration.
Mr Pakula also spoke about the increase in the number of children who were incarcerated. We know that many children who end up in juvenile detention are escaping abuse or have developed behavioural problems because of abuse. Mr Pakula said that the Royal Commission into Family Violence which has been established by his Government would assist in dealing with some of the problems created by family violence including children at risk, homelessness and alcohol and drug abuse.