Landmark reforms have passed NSW parliament permitting juries access to more evidence about a child abuse-accused's sexual interest in children.
Landmark reforms have passed NSW parliament permitting juries access to more evidence about a child abuse-accused's sexual interest in children.

Major evidence shake-up for child sex abuse trials

NSW MPs have passed landmark reforms permitting more evidence about an accused's sexual interest in children to be considered by juries in child sexual assault trials.

The new legislation, which passed state parliament on Wednesday, was created in response to the royal commission into child sexual abuse.

The commission found the exclusion of such evidence had led to unwarranted acquittals and barriers preventing offenders being held to account.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the passage of the laws marked "a significant milestone in our fight against the scourge of child sexual abuse".

"This won't undo the wrongs of the past but I hope this will give greater protection to victims, survivors in the future and a fairer outcome for all," Mr Speakman told reporters in Sydney.

The reforms will allow relevant evidence to be put before the court while maintaining important safeguards for a fair trial, the attorney-general said.

He called on other states and territories to introduce the same reforms.

It comes as the state government proposes additional legal changes, seeking to further protect young people from exploitation and reform forensic mental health laws.

Special care offences - applying to adults in positions of authority who engage in sexual activity with 16 or 17-year-olds in their care - would be broadened under one government bill being introduced to parliament.

Existing special care offences criminalise adults engaging in such activity within certain family relationships, at schools and other educational institutions, youth justice centres and in the provision of health care.

The government's bill would see add adults workers in refuges, youth residential care and homeless shelters could face the same offences.

The offences could also apply to school volunteers, adoptive parents, grandparents and their partners.

"This is not about a moral crusade. This is about making sure that adults don't abuse their power relationships," Mr Speakman said.

Another bill would change the wording of the special verdict given when someone has been acquitted of a crime because of a mental health condition or cognitive impairment.

The verdict would be changed from "not guilty by reason of mental illness" to "act proven but not criminally responsible".

Mr Speakman said the change would let victims and their families know the justice system acknowledged the act.

"This is about making sure that the criminal justice system respects the trauma and the pain of victims and their family members," he said.


*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
 

Originally published as More abuse-accused evidence for NSW juries


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