Yesterday, the Legal Affairs and Community Safety Committee of the Queensland Parliament recommended the Queensland Human Rights Bill be passed without change. Disappointingly the Government has failed to heed warnings from Women’s Legal Service Queensland (WLSQ) and other groups that the Bill in its current form does not sufficiently acknowledge the rights of victims (including child victims) in the Criminal Justice System (CJS), while specifically upholding the rights of criminal defendants.
Many victims of sexual and domestic violence face multiple barriers in their interactions with the CJS, including in reporting criminal offences to the police and through the legal process itself.
Many victims are aware of these barriers. According to the findings of the 2016 Personal Safety Survey (PSS) conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the majority of women who experience sexual violence (nine out of ten) did not contact police (87 per cent or 553,900) and of those that do only 10% result in a conviction.
Recognition of victims’ rights is consistent with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s recommendations of reform to the CJS that included a greater recognition of victim’s rights which have been in principal accepted by the QLD government.
WLSQ CEO, Angela Lynch says on behalf of her clients she is disappointed that the Government which has done so much to advance and acknowledge victims of domestic violence in the legal system, has failed victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in this instance.
“The Human Rights Act is a fantastic opportunity to provide many vulnerable Queenslanders an avenue of redress that otherwise would not exist. The failure to acknowledge the rights of victims will potentially lead to unjust outcomes for victims of domestic and sexual violence in the criminal justice system in Queensland and this is unfathomable in this day and age.”
“The Human Rights Act will have far reaching and deleterious consequences for nvictims of domestic and sexual violence in Queensland. Now, every new Bill will need to be harmonised with this act, and legislation interpreted by judges and decision makers in a manner compatible with this bill.”
“Without a counterbalance to the rights of a fair trial for criminal defendants by also recognising the rights of victims, it may become more difficult in Queensland to pass victim sensitive legislation or for court decisions to be made in a victim sensitive way.”
- Victims of sexual and domestic violence already face multiple structural barriers in their interactions with the criminal justice system which manifests in low reporting and conviction rates.
- The current protections for victims in Queensland contained in the “The Victim’s Charter of Rights” continue but have no legal enforceability.
- A defendant’s right to fairness in criminal trials will be legislatively elevated as a human right over and above those of victims leading to less victimoriented future legislation and decision making.
- Specific amendments are required regarding victims’ rights: to safety from the perpetrator; to interpreters and aides needed for communication; to privacy and confidentiality; to be treated with courtesy, compassion, respect and dignity, taking into account the victim’s needs; to have matters proceed without unreasonable delays; of child complainants in criminal trials; and to be provided with information about the criminal process in a reasonable and timely manner.