The protection of women was again at the forefront of the legislative agenda of the Palaszczuk Labor Government as it delivered significant consent law reforms in Parliament yesterday.
Attorney-General and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence said these consent law reforms were an important first step in modernising consent laws in Queensland.
“We have enshrined in the Criminal Code principles like silence doesn’t amount to consent, consent once given can be withdrawn and the self-intoxication of a defendant cannot be relied upon by that defendant to show that they were mistaken about whether or not consent was given and that was reasonable.
“This will provide clarity for judges to properly direct juries and get better outcomes for victims.”
All five recommendations made by the Queensland Law Reform Commission in its review of consent laws and excuse of mistake of fact were implemented including enshrining in the criminal code the four key principles.
The Queensland Law Reform Commission is an independent statutory body established under the Law Reform Commission Act 1968. The Commission's key statutory duties, as provided in section 10(3) of the Law Reform Commission Act, include duties to: + undertake law reform reviews referred to it by the Attorney-General; + prepare and submit to the Attorney-General from time to time a proposed program of law reform reviews, for review and approval by the Attorney-General; and + undertake any approved program of law reform reviews, subject to any variations made by the Attorney-General in terms of the proposed reviews or their order of priority. The Commission makes recommendations for law reform in reports submitted to the Attorney-General which are required to be tabled in Parliament.
The Commission examined the transcripts of 135 rape and sexual assault trials and 40 appellate decisions to help determine its recommendations. The Commission found four legal principles operating in current case law, but that these principles were not explicitly spelt out in the criminal code.
- silence alone does not amount to consent;
- consent initially given can be withdrawn;
- a defendant is not required to take any particular steps to ascertain consent but the jury can consider anything the defendant said or did when considering whether they were mistaken about consent;
- the voluntary intoxication of the defendant is irrelevant to the reasonableness of their belief about consent, though it can be relevant to the honesty of that belief.
“I understand that some stakeholders believe the laws could go further, and I acknowledge there is always more to do. Our Government will always look at ways we can eliminate violence against women from our community.”
This month, the Premier and the Attorney-General announced a wide-ranging review of women’s experiences in the criminal justice system to be conducted by the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce – led by the Hon Margaret McMurdo AC.
“The taskforce will look at ways to break down the barriers women face from when they report the crime all the way to their experience in the court.
“These are complex laws that need extensive consultation to get this right, and if the taskforce find that consent laws need amending, our Government will act.”
The 10 member Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce will look into possible future areas of reform, including attitudinal change, prevention, service response and legislative amendment.
Key initiatives of the Taskforce to date include:
- trialling GPS electronic monitoring in the criminal justice system for people using violence
- developed a Good Practice Resource for domestic and family violence court support workers
- establishing specialist domestic and family violence courts in Southport, Beenleigh, Townsville (with a circuit to Palm Island) and Mount Isa. Evaluation of the Specialist Domestic and Family Violence Court Trial in Southport (PDF), completed in February 2017, is now available.
- amending Queensland laws to better protect survivors and people experiencing violence and hold people who use violence to account
- enhancing support for people involved in domestic and family violence court proceedings
- expanding the domestic violence duty lawyer service
- automating information-sharing across the justice system
- enhancing awareness of court processes among survivors and people experiencing violence and people using violence
- releasing the Domestic and Family Violence Bench Book
- rolling out a statewide Vulnerable Persons Training Package to equip police with the knowledge and skills to work within the new legislative frameworks for domestic and family violence and mental health
- establishing the Domestic and Family Violence Coordinator Network
- continuing to work with Community Justice Groups to implement and deliver a domestic and family violence response for communities.