ALRC Inquiry into Justice Responses to Sexual Violence

Read our submission here.

Improving responses to sexual violence is a national issue and requires a commitment from all state and territory governments to implement reforms and invest in fundamentally changing the criminal legal system within their jurisdictions. Consistent with the Standing Council of Attorneys-General Work Plan to Strengthen Criminal Justice Responses to Sexual Assault 2022 – 2027, all state and territory governments must strengthen legal frameworks to ensure victim-survivors have improved justice outcomes and protections and engage in wide-spread systems reforms.

Legislative reforms should be urgently implemented in all jurisdictions to provide enhanced protections, rights, entitlements to victim-survivors of sexual violence navigating the criminal legal system. A reform priority must be granting standing to complainants in criminal proceedings for sexual violence offences, including pre-trial proceedings and at trial, to ensure their rights and entitlements are upheld and protected, particularly in relation to evidence.

It is important to recognise legislative reform alone will not significantly improve outcomes for victim-survivors of sexual violence. We need to see cultural change and systems reform towards having trauma-informed, culturally safe, and gendered violence-informed systems – with the purpose of both increasing conviction rates through the criminal legal system and improving other outcomes for victim-survivors.  

We also need significant investment from Commonwealth, state and territory governments to increase access to frontline domestic, family, and sexual violence services, including specialist legal assistance services for victim-survivors of sexual violence. This must include legal assistance to navigate the criminal legal system and to assist with intersecting legal issues, from when a victim-survivor is considering whether to report through to the end of their legal matters. This must also include culturally safe and appropriate services for First Nations people and culturally and linguistically diverse people.

Increased access to legal assistance is vital to improving justice responses to sexual violence. Victim-survivors must have access to legal advice to ensure they understand criminal justice processes, are informed about their rights and entitlements and the options available and have their own independent legal representation throughout engagement with criminal legal processes to ensure any legislative protections or entitlements are applied appropriately, including inside the courtroom at pre-trial hearings and at trial.

The current pilot for sexual assault legal services funded by the Commonwealth Government is a welcome step in the right direction and has increased the capacity of Women’s Legal Centre ACT, Women’s Legal Service WA, and Women’s Legal Service Victoria to deliver legal assistance to victim-survivors of sexual assault. However, significant additional funding for legal assistance is needed to ensure all victim-survivors across Australia can access Women’s Legal Services and the supports they need to navigate the criminal legal system.