More sex assault cases heading for closed courts

By Natasha Wallace
August 2, 2004

The State Government will give sexual assault complainants a better chance of having their cases tried in closed courts, but has stopped short of making closed sessions mandatory.

However, a new law could make it the rule rather than the exception by putting the onus on the defence to prove a closed court should not apply, a spokesman for the attorney-general, Bob Debus, said yesterday.

The proposal has been criticised as either being too little too late or a step towards eroding the rights of the accused.

A member of the criminal law committee of the NSW Law Society, Phillip Gibson, said it took justice "behind closed doors".

"The starting point [should be] an open and public court and people should have the right to go and see what's going on, Mr Gibson said. "Witnesses shouldn't be able to hide behind the veil of a closed court and possibly be emboldened by that."

The proposal is among changes that give sexual assault complainants some of the same legal rights as children, such as giving evidence via videolink. The closed-court amendment will be introduced next month. "This law will provide a presumption in favour of a closed court," Mr Debus's spokesman said.

The mother of a teenage gang rape victim, known as HG, said the defence should not have a say: "What's the point of passing the bill if you're not going to make it compulsory?"

She said that after her daughter was repeatedly raped at knifepoint in July 2002, she was shocked to find her daughter could not give evidence to a closed court.

The manager of the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, Karen Willis, said it could work against complainants. "I can just hear the defence lawyers saying to a jury now: 'Look, she's lying, she hasn't got the guts to face you'," she said.