LAWS allowing the public naming of people charged with rape and other prescribed sexual offences in Queensland were passed in State Parliament on Wednesday 13 September.
The reforms, contained in the Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, were among other legislative amendments to modernise and strengthen Queensland’s laws relating to the operation of courts and tribunals and the justice system.
The key measure will remove restrictions in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1978(CLSO Act), which currently prohibit reporting of the identity of accused rapists and defendants charged with other prescribed sexual offences prior to committal.
A prescribed sexual offence includes rape, attempt to commit rape, assault with intent to commit rape and sexual assault.
When the laws commence on 3 October 2023, those accused of these sexual offences will be treated the same as individuals charged with any other offence, with details about their identity able to be published, except where it would identify or tend to lead to the identification of the complainant.
The new laws passed just before Mareeba man Matthew Charles Knowlton was sentenced to six years in prison for the rape of a fourteen-year-old girl in 2021.
Attorney-General, Minister for Justice and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Yvette D’Ath said the interest of the victims is at the forefront of these new reforms.
“Rape and sexual assault are some of the most underreported criminal offences in Australia and we want to support victims to come forward and hold perpetrators to account,” she said.
“This was a recommendation of the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce and will bring Queensland’s laws in line with most other states and territories.”
Under the new laws, the defendant, their alleged victim(s) or the prosecution can apply to a Queensland court for a non-publication order.
When deciding such applications, the court must consider various matters including any submissions made or views expressed by or on behalf of the alleged victim.
Accredited media entities will have a right of appearance on any application and the court will take reasonable steps to notify them when an application is made.
Work is currently underway to finalise a guide which will be available prior to commencement, to assist journalists and media organisations when they report on sexual violence matters before the courts.
The reform brings Queensland more closely into line with all other Australian jurisdictions, other than the Northern Territory and is in direct response to a recommendation from the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce.
The new laws also amend the Criminal Code, the Penalties and Sentences Act 1992, the Youth Justice Act 1992, and the Victims of Crime Assistance Act 2009 – as part of a Queensland Government commitment to better recognise the loss of an unborn child due to criminal conduct.
These amendments include a requirement for the courts to treat the death of an unborn child as an aggravating factor during sentencing and will also improve support for families.
The reforms will also clarify provisions relating to qualifications for and disqualification of Justices of the Peace and Commissioners for Declarations to provide further protections for members of the community.