The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse today released model legislation to amend evidence laws. The model Bill aims to allow for greater admissibility of tendency and coincidence evidence and facilitate more joint trials.
Submissions to the Royal Commission’s Consultation Paper on Criminal Justice indicate that tendency and coincidence evidence and joint trials are the most controversial criminal justice issues to be considered by the Royal Commission.
How the criminal justice system deals with allegations against an individual of sexual offending against more than one child, has been identified by Commissioners as one of the most significant issues in their criminal justice work.
Royal Commission CEO Philip Reed said the admissibility of tendency and coincidence evidence, and the conduct of joint trials, could be particularly important in child sexual abuse cases, particularly involving institutional child sexual abuse.
“Where the only evidence of child sexual abuse offences is the complainant’s evidence, it is likely to be more difficult for the jury to be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that the offences occurred because the jury is effectively considering the account of one person against the account of another.
“If other complainants or witnesses are able to give evidence that the accused also sexually abused them as a child – considered to be tendency or coincidence evidence - this may help the jury to be satisfied of the accused’s guilt beyond reasonable doubt.”
The model Bill provides a specific example of possible amendments to evidence laws. It is based in part on laws in England and Wales that allow for much greater admissibility of tendency and coincidence evidence and for more joint trials.
The model Bill has been drafted by the New South Wales Parliamentary Counsel’s Office, on instructions of Royal Commission staff, for the purposes of consultation. If Commissioners recommend law reform on these issues, the recommendations would apply nationally.
A number of lawyers who will be witnesses in the Criminal Justice public hearing starting on Monday 28 November 2016 will be asked to give their opinions about the model Bill. The Royal Commission also invites any interested person to provide comments on the model Bill, which is available on the Royal Commission’s website.
Comments were provided by email to: criminaljustice [at] childabuseroyalcommission.gov.au.
Read Model Bill.