New laws introduced today in the ACT Legislative Assembly change the way that evidence laws operate to support access to justice for victims of child sexual abuse.
Specifically, these changes ensure that information received under the seal of confession is no longer protected under the Evidence Act 2011.
Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said this new legislation continues the ACT Government’s commitment to implement recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“The abuse of a child is terrible crime perpetrated against the most vulnerable in our community and cannot be tolerated. Children are likely to have less ability to report abuse or take steps to protect themselves,” Minister Ramsay said.
The Bill introduced in the ACT Legislative Assembly amends tendency and coincidence evidence provisions to implement the model laws agreed by the Council of Attorneys-General and addresses issues raised in our courts regarding persistent child sexual abuse offences.
“This new legislation will improve access to justice for victims of child sexual abuse and the way perpetrators are investigated, prosecuted and sentenced,” Minister Ramsay said.
“This recognises the difficulties for children who have been subjected to persistent sexual abuse in identifying specific dates, times and locations when the abuse occurred.”
The new legislation also removes the exemption from giving evidence for members of clergy who receive information of child abuse under religious confession.
“The right to freedom of religion is not absolute, and the freedom to practice religion in a particular way must never take precedence over a child’s right to safety,” Minister Ramsay said.
“This legislation is yet another example of the Government’s solemn commitment to take responsibility, and to implement the findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
“We will keep working to improve our legal system, and we will keep demonstrating in our words, in our actions, and in our laws that protecting children is our absolutely priority.
“For victims of child sexual abuse.
“We see you, we hear you, we support you.”
The work of the Royal Commission and the ACT Government’s response may bring up strong feelings and questions.
Be assured you are not alone, and that there are many services and support groups available to assist.