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News Release Hon Michael Atkinson Attorney-General www.ministers.sa.gov.au Hon Steph Key Minister for the Status of Women Wednesday, 9 November 2005 RANN PURSUES FURTHER RAPE LAW REFORM The Rann Government is to pursue a comprehensive overhaul of South Australia’s rape, sexual assault and domestic violence laws, building on legal reforms already approved by Cabinet to help victims. Premier Mike Rann has asked the Attorney-General and Minister for the Status of Women to investigate the laws and make urgent recommendations for change. “This is part of our Government’s commitment to stamp out violence,” says Attorney-General Michael Atkinson. “We are determined to eliminate as much trauma and stress as possible for these victims who have already endured enough physical and emotional abuse. “It’s time for a comprehensive reappraisal of our laws so that they can be updated to reflect current views and knowledge. “That’s why I will be ensuring that we draw on the best reform options available around our nation and beyond.” Already the Rann Cabinet has approved changes to the law that will: Require courts to make special arrangements for victims of sex-offences giving evidence; Provide for even more special arrangements that a court can offer vulnerable witnesses, including victims of sex-offences; Stop un-represented defendants personally cross-examining the alleged victim; Clarify what questions should be considered improper for a witness to be asked and require courts to prevent lawyers asking them; Prevent defendants having unrestricted access to prosecution material that is sensitive or interferes with the victim’s privacy, such as certain photos; Allow a transcript of a witnesses evidence to be admitted at a retrial, eliminating any need for the victim to endure giving evidence on the same topic again; Allow the court to admit hearsay evidence of out-of-court statements of victims who are children, mentally disabled or intellectually impaired without the victims having to come to court to give oral evidence. Minister for the Status of Women Steph Key says the next overhaul will also take into account a report due soon by the Legislative Review Committee examining sexual assault conviction rates. “The conviction rate in rape cases that go to trial is unacceptably low,” says the Minister. “Only 17.6 per cent of rape cases which were referred to SA courts in 2002 resulted in a conviction. “Sexual offences also attract the lowest guilty plea of any major offence. “Clearly there has already been extensive investigation done locally and the Committee’s recommendations will provide an important body of knowledge in our considerations. “We need to do more to help our women.” The Government expects to see changes in a number of areas including: The treatment of victims of sexual offences in the criminal justice system, including their experience of investigative, prosecution and trial procedures; Changes to the criminal law with respect to the elements of sexual offences, the joinder and severance of charges, the admissibility of evidence (including similar fact and hearsay evidence); Prescribing or proscribing judicial directions to the jury by statue to reflect more contemporary community standards; Changes to legislation and/or administrative arrangements considered desirable to enhance the treatment of victims of sexual offences in the criminal justice system; The power to remove an alleged perpetrator of domestic violence from the victim’s home to prevent ongoing abuse; Escalating the sanctions against perpetrators of domestic violence where there have been repeated breaches of restraint orders; and Statutory recognition of cumulative breaches of a Domestic Violence Restraining Order and increased consequences. The investigation will also assess the need for a community-based public awareness program on domestic violence laws and the legal boundaries of sexual behaviour. The Premier has indicated he does not want to see a protracted process of review. The proposals for procedural changes will be developed over the next three months with detailed changes to the law expected to be announced early next year. Legislation will be introduced as a priority following the election in March 2006.
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