Sexual Offences and Suppression Laws in Queensland
As of the 3rd day of October 2023, the laws in Queensland have changed to now permit the reporting of the names of persons who are charged with sexual offences.
The amendments to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1978 mean that the names of persons accused of sexual offences are no longer automatically suppressed.
Previously, it was unlawful to publish a complainant’s identity. Notably, that has not changed as a result of the new amendments – that is a complainant’s identity still cannot be published.
It was also unlawful to publish a defendant’s identity but only before they were committed for trial or sentence by a Magistrate.
The new amendments now permit publication of a defendant unless a non-publication order is made pursuant to an application to the courts for suppression.
There has been widespread media coverage surrounding these amendments, with opinions varied as to the utility of such amendments, and the naming of persons who are charged with sexual offences from the outset of the matter.
One of the loudest opinions shared was from Bill Potts, an experienced and well-known defence solicitor. Mr Potts expressed his approval of the amendments, noting it would promote ‘openness’ and also that any risks of naming defendants would be mitigated by fair reporting.
Despite the amendments, identities of complainants in these matters continue to be automatically suppressed. It is therefore disingenuous to suggest these amendments are truly promoting an open justice system when no information can be published that would likely identify a complainant at any time.
A truly open system would be one in which either all or no parties to a matter are able to be identified and therefore all parties open to the same level of scrutiny. Again, despite assertions from ‘experts’ like Mr Potts and the attorney general, complainants identities are routinely revealed in all other types of criminal matters – making these amendments nothing like those described as, “putting Queensland in line with other states and territories”.
There is no openness or fairness in a system where one person can ‘hide’ behind a serious criminal complaint and afforded anonymity but the person accused (despite being assumed innocent) is subject to fierce public scrutiny often accompanied by media commentary from non-experts. The court of public opinion is real and an ability for only one side of a matter to be subject to criticism and scrutiny is highly prejudicial.
This week’s significant media coverage of this matter only serves to remind us how much interest surrounds these types of matters.
Case in point is the recent highly publicised rape allegation in Canberra between Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins. Both parties endured fierce scrutiny however it epitomised fairness as neither parties identities were hidden. After all, why should a person’s identity be permitted to be hidden when their allegations could see an accused sentenced to a significant jail term?
Importantly, prosecutions in that matter declined to proceed on the basis that the complainant’s mental health was suffering. That leads to the question of whether an accused (again deemed to be innocent) would be afforded the same sympathy?
Another issue the Queensland Government fails to address by way of these amendments, is the erosion of one of the foundational principles of our justice system, that being any defendant is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty.
One of the benefits of the previous anonymity provided to those accused of sexual offences, is the protection from premature and uninformed public denunciation and life and career reputational damage that often accompany allegations of this nature. There can be no argument that we as a community condemn offences of a sexual nature more than any other, which is precisely why extra care ought be taken when reporting a person’s identity before these most unsavoury of offences are ever proven against them.
Whilst the justice system should balance the interests of both the accused and the accuser, this is what is already achieved by complaints being investigated and then prosecuted. The purpose of initiating a prosecution should not be to have an accused ‘named and shamed’. If a person is found guilty of a sexual offence, the matters will inevitably be reported in the media and the deserved ‘justice’ and pubic shaming would be achieved and would then be appropriate.
At the time a person is charged, no Court has tested the allegations or evidence in order to determine whether a person is guilty, let alone whether there is even a case to establish whether a person could be found guilty. The very real and negative consequences the reporting of a person charged with a sexual offences heavily outweigh any “justice” brought to a victim and the community by naming them at such an early stage.
It is important to remember that before these amendments, accused persons were able to be named, but only after a Magistrate deemed there was a case to answer. Why was this not enough?
Many people will naturally hold no sympathy toward accused persons and may not therefore be concerned with amendments such as this. However, what if it were you that were falsely accused? What if it were your son? Or brother?
We at Jones + Associates are experts at handling delicate matters such as these with diligence best proved by our unblemished results assisting those accused of sexual offences. Should you or those close to you require assistance regarding sexual type matters or the fresh amendments, you should contact us at (07) 3229 3166.