Written by Bill Doogue. Partner, Doogue O’Brien George Criminal Defence Lawyers.
Attending the Royal Commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse is an interesting process.
You enter a court room that seems to have been constructed for a number of aims. Media seems a driving force, with two large manned cameras for the web casting. There are 5 large monitors on the walls, on which are displayed the statements or documents that the witness is being questioned about.
One of our great concerns was borne out early in our observation of the process. In a nutshell, a witness gave a statement and was called to give evidence about it. He discusses the dealings with an alleged offender a long time ago. A statement is displayed on the screen and then the witness recants from the name of the person he has indicated as being involved in part of it. The obvious difficulty with this process is the potential besmirchment of an innocent person’s name and reputation.
To be fair, the royal commission is finding its way. Personally, I think the focus on an aboriginal man in the scouting movement is a poor opener for this process. We are faced with a lot of white men who are talking about their struggle to deal with an indigenous man who as one witness put it might play the “race card”.
In my opinion, the calculated decision to start with this examination is offensive. I have never heard that indigenous abusers are prolific in the Scouting movement. Do we need the initial flurry of media interest in this Commission to focus on this? There are many different organizations that could have been chosen.
One witness said words to the effect that they formed a view that the issue of child protection outweighed the tenets of natural justice. It seems to me that this is underpinning this process. It is also apparent to me that these are not mutually exclusive concepts.
Any use of this Royal Commission to lessen natural justice would be wrong.
The Royal Commission have said they will look at the sentencing process. What exactly needs to be examined? Will we have longer sentences? Stricter parole? And on that point, how are the differences between the States addressed?
Normally hearing such as committals run with the defence asking more general questions than they would before a jury. This Commission runs as a reverse committal with the prosecutor (i.e. counsel assisting) questioning the witnesses in a wide ranging manner. There is no restriction on witnesses (which would be silly when web casting) to stop them from listening to other people’s evidence before they give their own evidence. Presumably some of that problem is guarded against by the initial secret hearings.
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