Judges to feel abuse inquiry glare

Australia’s criminal justice system is likely to hear major changes are needed in how sex crime cases are handled, after the child abuse royal commission holds a public hearing later in March.


On Friday the commission released three research papers into the system ahead of the inquiry which starts on March 15.

The papers cover a wide range of issues from the admissibility of evidence of previous crimes or the bad character of an alleged offender to the effectiveness of special police investigative units in child sex abuse cases.

It follows ongoing research into criminal justice by the commission after early evidence from abuse survivors showed many believed the system was stacked against them.

Last September, at the the Supreme Court of NSW annual conference, commission chair Justice Peter McClellan challenged judges to ask themselves how they knew their “commonsense” assumptions were correct.

He told them they needed improved access to knowledge provided by other professions, such as psychologists, when it came to understanding the impacts on abuse victims and the behaviour of offenders.

He also said judges needed a clearer understanding of jury reactions so they could give appropriate directions in sensitive trials where multiple offending is alleged.

The first week of the public hearing, which will run until March 24, will look into the experiences of survivors of child sexual abuse in the criminal justice system where the accused was the subject of allegations by more than one complainant.

The second week will examine how victims with communication difficulties, such as very young children and people with disability, can be assisted in the criminal justice system.