Abuse Accused "May Not Get Fair Trial"
By Annette Blackwell
March 18, 2016
|A defence lawyer says those accused of child sexual abuse may not be able to get a fair trial.|
The pendulum of public awareness about child sexual abuse has swung so far in one direction that those accused of abuse are in danger of not getting a fair trial, a senior defence lawyer says.
Peter Morrissey SC, who is head of the Criminal Bar Association in Victoria, told the child sex abuse commission on Friday it needed to be extremely cautious about recommending changes to rules of evidence when it came to abuse trials.
Mr Morrissey was on a panel giving evidence to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, which is exploring if changes need to be made with regard to the admissibility of evidence about the character and past conduct of defendants.
Courts usually take a cautious approach to admitting such evidence because of the danger of prejudicing jury decisions.
Mr Morrissey said awareness about abuse in institutions is now at an all-time high, making it the wrong time to change the law because the "(fair trial) hijacking potential of this evidence is higher than ever".
For the past week the commission has heard from child sex abuse survivors, who said they could not understand why juries were not made aware there were multiple complaints against the defendant.
Complaints are often separated into separate trials and evidence is not cross-admissible.
The commission has heard that the conviction rate in child sexual abuse trials in Australia is lower than the rate in other criminal trials.
Mr Morrissey said he thought the number of convictions in Victoria had risen and it could be because of community sentiment about child sex abuse.