This week, Rod rose to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Bill 2020.
He addressed one aspect of the Bill which was causing distress to those who have lost their loved ones to a horrendous crime – the deceased victims of sexual assault.
This Clause was removed from the Bill and the Bill then passed, retaining the right for families of deceased victims of sexual assault to speak out when and if they choose.
See Rods speech below
Mr BARTON (Eastern Metropolitan) (16:44): I rise to speak on the Justice Legislation Amendment (Supporting Victims and Other Matters) Bill 2020. Today I wish to address one aspect of this bill which is causing distress to those who have lost their loved ones to a horrendous crime—the deceased victims of sexual assault.
The current reporting of deceased sexual assault victims is guided by the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act 1958. The current act does not expressly address deceased victims of sexual assault, and it is unclear whether the restrictions apply to deceased victims. The Victorian Law Reform Commission’s report on Contempt of Court acknowledged that protecting a deceased victim’s identity and privacy does not serve the legislation’s purpose. The Judicial Proceedings Reports Act was implemented to prevent the retraumatisation of and to protect the privacy of surviving victims and their families.
Last Friday in granting an order under the act Judge McInerney stated on multiple occasions that in his opinion section 4(1A) of the act does not apply to a deceased person and as such deceased victims of sexual offences can be identified, whilst acknowledging, however, that the Director of Public Prosecutions has a different opinion on this point of law.
The judgement is in line with New South Wales and the United Kingdom, where such laws only apply to alleged victims who are alive. The bill inserts an express legal requirement that a court order must permit the publication of any particulars likely to lead to the identification of a deceased sexual assault victim. This would require grieving families to go to court to explain their reasons for sharing their loved one’s tragedy. Enabling families to speak about their loved ones when they choose and how they choose simply makes sense. It is not correct that you would seek to silence a grieving family wanting to share their story when and if they decide to do so.
In addition, the Judicial Proceedings Reports Act as it was amended in February directly contradicts the Open Courts Act 2013. The current words of ‘particulars likely to lead to the identification’ of a victim is confusing and is a hindrance towards justice. As a society we must acknowledge that without the media reporting we may never have found some perpetrators. With the media’s assistance it took only six days to find Jill Meagher’s killer.
We must also acknowledge that there are families who want to share their stories when they choose, while protecting those families that do not want to have public acknowledgement. When Mr Dixon, father of Eurydice, of his own volition published the name of his deceased daughter he did so in order to remember her, humanise her and incite change in the way we address this crime. Jill Meagher’s mother said this bill is a heartache on all those who have lost their precious ones. We can speak to 10 families and we will get 10 different opinions regarding this bill, and within those families partners will have a different view to mum and dad, brothers and sisters will have a different view to the partner. It is a very, very difficult road we are travelling along.
This is why I have asked the government not to make any changes which will affect the sexual assault victims and their families and, with the sunset clause, to use the next 10 months to consult and get this very difficult situation right. It is my belief that putting families through this twice in a year is too much pain to ask them to endure. It is for this reason I cannot support this bill as it currently stands, and I urge the government to remove the proposed prohibition on naming deceased victims.