Child Sex Offenders Have Walked Free Because of Case Handling, Inquiry Hears
By Nicole Chettle
March 16, 2016
Offenders have escaped conviction because cases have been heard separately instead of in a single trial, a deputy senior crown prosecutor has told the royal commission into child sexual abuse.
Richard Herps told the hearing he spent 12 years as a prosecutor in Penrith in Sydney's west, and that of the 250 District Court trials he handled in the 1990s, nearly half involved child sexual assault.
"The Monday and Wednesday call-overs gave priority to child sex assault matters, which took up at least 40 per cent of the list," Mr Herps said.
The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Sydney is looking at the handling of such complaints in the criminal justice system.
Mr Herps said that in Penrith, these cases were almost always heard separately - even if an offender was accused of crimes against several children.
"You were always presenting a single complainant without anyone being able to buttress or support their evidence" Mr Herps said.
"And you were in a sense putting an unreal view to a jury about this almost being an isolated incident, when in fact it wasn't."
Applications to have separate matters involving the same offender heard together were routinely refused, for fear victims may have colluded in presenting their evidence.
Separate hearings resulted in failed convictions: inquiry
Mr Herps was asked if this resulted in a failure to secure convictions when he believed they should have succeeded.
"The answer to that is yes," he said.
"Most complainants are reasonably compelling, but there are some difficulties in them giving evidence and they not infrequently get some of the particulars wrong, including years and things of that nature.
"If they stand alone, the picture being given to the jury is an isolated one and it doesn't always have a favourable result. If they stand with others ... because there's more evidence available, it normally is a more favourable result."
Mr Herps said child sexual assault cases were handled differently today.
"The way the law stands now, of being able to call a number of complainants in the one trial, it changes the dynamics. It gives a jury a more realistic view of what's going on."
Earlier, Crown Prosecutor Nanette Williams said "isolating that one complainant makes it seem less likely that it happened".
The commission is considering whether people accused of abusing several children should face a single trial, or whether evidence from different victims should be admissible in separate trials.
The hearing was expected to take two weeks.