New law changes to reduce trauma for victims in sexual violence cases

By Jessica Tyson

The government has announced it will introduce law changes later this year to ensure that the justice system doesn't further harm victims and survivors when prosecuting sexual violence cases.

Parliamentary under-secretary to the Minister of Justice, Jan Logie says research consistently shows that giving evidence is the hardest part of the justice process for sexual violence victims.

“We know fear and anxiety about appearing in court and going through cross-examination prevents many people from reporting what has happened to them.” she says.

The proposed law changes include:

  • Tightening the rules around evidence about a complainant’s sexual history, to better protect against unnecessary and distressing questioning.
  • Ensuring specialist assistance is available for witnesses who need it to understand and answer questions.
  • Giving sexual violence victims the right to choose how they give their evidence and undertake cross-examination – for example by audio-visual link or pre-recorded video.
  • Recording evidence given at trial so it can be replayed at re-trial instead of having to be given again.
  • More protections for sexual violence victims giving their victim impact statements in court.
  • Certainty for judges to intervene in unfair or inappropriate questioning, and to address common myths and misconceptions about sexual violence.

Logie says the reforms will make a significant difference for victims and survivors of sexual violence while ensuring trials are a fair and robust process.

“These reforms are focused on that process and respond to Law Commission recommendations- and reflect the calls for change that have been coming from the sector for over a decade.”

The announcement builds on the government’s record investment in addressing family and sexual violence in the Wellbeing Budget, which includes funding to implement legislative changes, in addition to providing best practice training and education for lawyers and judges involved in sexual violence cases.