The current system for sentencing perpetrators of historic child sexual abuse offences needs revising because light punishments send the wrong message to the community, according to a NSW Court of Appeal judge.
Peter McClellan, the chairman of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, said the existing protocol means offenders are sentenced according to the guidelines at the time the crime was committed.
“There are a number of concerns with this practice,” said Justice McClellan in a speech at the Modern Prosecutor Conference in Melbourne.
“Sentences may be shorter than they would otherwise be applying current standards. Non-custodial sentences may be imposed for offending which, applying current standards, would result in a term of imprisonment.”
Justice McClellan added that this could cause distress to victims, particularly as previous standards may have lacked an understanding of the serious impact sexual abuse often has on survivors.
He referred to NSW District Court data that showed the number of child sex abuse matters has doubled over a three-year period, yet conviction rates have declined.
The figures showed that 73 cases were settled at a defended hearing in 2012-13, with a 56 per cent conviction rate. By 2015-16, the proportion of perpetrators convicted had slumped to 47 per cent, while 142 matters went before the court.
Investigating child sex abuse
The royal commission is expected to provide a report to the federal government on its findings in relation to current criminal justice issues in August.
Last month, the agency held its last case study public hearing into institutions accused of historic child abuse, following a three-year investigation.
The commission uncovered a number of damaging allegations to various organisations, including the Catholic church. It released figures indicating that 7 per cent of Catholic priests working in Australia between 1950 and 2009 had been accused of sexual abuse.
Furthermore, 22 out of 23 Anglican dioceses in the country were implicated in abuse over a 35-year period, with the church paying out $34 million in compensation to victims. The average claimant received $72,000, according to a royal commission report published in March.
If you would like to make a claim for abuse you have suffered, Gerard Malouf & Partners Compensation, Medical Negligence & Will Dispute Lawyers may be able to help. Please get in touch with a member of our team for a confidential one-on-one or telephone consultation.