Tasmanian law reform on sexual offences against young people

Tasmania’s law reform body has released its recommendations into the state’s child sex laws in a report, Sexual offences against young people.

The report by the Tasmanian Law Reform Institute (TLRI) originated in a request from the Attorney-General to review the crime of sexual intercourse with a young person and the availability of the defence of mistake as to age. Professor Kate Warner, Director of TLRI, said the report notes that care must be taken to ensure legislative responses appropriately target offenders, and do not criminalise consensual similar age sex.

The report recommends that the legal defence about mistaking age should remain, if a defendant can demonstrate that the mistake was honest and reasonable, and all reasonable steps were taken to determine age. ‘Rather than just taking the young person's word for it, you'd want to ask for proof of age in some way,’ Professor Warner said.

Liz Little from the Sexual Assault Support Service has described the report as a missed opportunity that does nothing to address the situation that led to it, where a 12-year-old girl was prostituted by her mother.

The Tasmanian Attorney-General, Brian Wightman, says he will take plans for a no defence age to Cabinet, even though the institute's report did not recommend that course of action. ‘I've been very clear on the record that I do believe Tasmania should have a no defence age,’ he said. ‘We're the only jurisdiction without one and I've read the report and I haven't been persuaded against my original view which is that we should have a no defence age in Tasmania.’

The report is available for download from the TLRI website: http://www.utas.edu.au/law-reform/

(Source: University of Tasmania website, 30 October 2012, ABC News, 29 October 2012.)

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