Learn from psychologists: McClellan

7 News

By Annette Blackwell
March 31, 2015

The legal system in Australia needs to learn from psychologists or risk inflicting grave injustices on child sex assault victims, the chair of the child sexual abuse royal commission says.

In a keynote address in Auckland to the 14th Australasian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect on Tuesday, Justice Peter McClellan will say judges are working off what they thought they knew about how “genuine complainants” behaved and how memory works.

“Assumptions that turned out, with the benefit of empirical research, to be erroneous,” he says.

He will trace the historical legal approach to sex assault cases and cite relatively recent warnings by judges about delayed reporting affecting credibility and the fallible nature of human recollection making evidence about childhood events particularly susceptible to error.

Justice McClellan says these legal propositions were put without a scientific source, yet they became embedded in the fabric of the common law and proved difficult even for parliament to dislodge.

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