In Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Anor v SZSSJ and Anor; Minister for Immigration and Border Protection and Ors v SZTZI  HCA 29 the High Court has today unanimously held that DIBP's processes in response to the 2014 refugee data breach did not deny procedural fairness to two former protection visa applicants.
The breach involved inadvertent provision on the Department’s site of a document with embedded information disclosing the identities of 9,258 detailed applicants for protection visas, highlighted here. The detained people whose personal information was exposed through the breach included SZSSJ and SZTZI.
KPMG investigated the breach on behalf of the Department, identifying 104 unique IP addresses (including some in jurisdictions noted for disregard of human rights) from which the document had been accessed. The Department then notified applicants affected by the breach and initiated International Treaties Obligations Assessments (ITOAs) through standardised procedures prescribed in its Procedures Advice Manual - a publicly available document - to assess the effect of the breach on Australia's non-refoulement obligations.
Officials undertaking ITOAs were instructed to assume that an affected applicant's personal information may have been accessed by authorities in the country in which he or she feared persecution or other relevant harm.
SZSSJ and SZTZI were informed that ITOAs were being undertaken in accord with the Manual in relation to their protection. SZSSJ and SZTZI requested unabridged copies of the KPMG Report, following release of a substantially edited version of the Report. Those requests were refused.
SZSSJ then commenced proceedings in the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, seeking relief in respect of the breach before the specific ITOA had been completed. SZTZI commenced proceedings in the Court after an ITOA concluded that her claims did not engage Australia's non-refoulement obligations. Both those proceedings were dismissed. (Other litigation is noted here.)
The Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia however allowed their appeals, holding that they were denied procedural fairness by virtue of the Department's failures to adequately explain the ITOA processes and to provide the unabridged Report. The Full Court also rejected a submission that the Federal Circuit Court's jurisdiction to hear claims by SZTZI's and SZSSJ's were excluded by s 476(2)(d) of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth).
The Minister successfully sought special leave for appeals to the High Court.
The Court today held that SZTZI and SZSSJ were owed a duty to be afforded procedural fairness in the ITOA process. However they were not denied procedural fairness. The applicants has been informed of the nature and purpose of the ITOAs and of the issues to be considered.
The Court held that instruction given to officers conducting ITOAs to assume that SZSSJ's and SZTZI's personal information may have been accessed by authorities in the countries of concern to those applicants meant that not providing the unabridged Report did not constitute a denial of procedural fairness.
The High Court also held that the Full Court correctly concluded that the Federal Circuit Court had jurisdiction to hear SZSSJ's and SZTZI's claims.
27 July 2016
25 July 2016
'The Abolition of Defensive Homicide: A Step Towards Populist Punitivism at the Expense of Mentally Impaired Offenders' by Madeleine Ulbrick, Asher Flynn and Danielle Tyson in (2016) 40(1) Melbourne University Law Review comments
The offence of defensive homicide was abolished in Victoria in November 2014, following a widely held perception that it was being abused by violent men. While primarily associated with battered women who killed in response to prolonged family violence — but who were unable to establish their offending as self-defence — a less publicised rationale underpinning the introduction of defensive homicide was to provide an alternative offence for offenders with cognitive impairments not covered by the mental impairment (formerly the insanity) defence. Cognitive impairments are complex and varied in their nature and symptomatology. Offenders presenting with cognitive impairments therefore require an appropriate range of legal responses to capture the nuances and appropriate moral culpability of their conduct. Drawing from an analysis of the cases of defensive homicide heard over its 10–year lifespan, this article contends that the abolition of defensive homicide did not adequately take into consideration the potential impacts on individuals whose mental conditions are not typically covered by the restrictive mental impairment defence. We further argue that the decision to abolish defensive homicide was driven by dominant, populist voices, without sufficient attention given to the offence’s potential to achieve the aims underpinning its enactment, including providing an alternative offence for women who kill in response to prolonged family violence.The authors argue
In the study of homicide, while mental illness (specifically psychotic illness) has been a common subject of investigation, this has ‘not produced a thorough understanding of mental incapacity’. Moreover, the perpetual focus on exculpation at law has ‘marginalized’ the discourse around other ways in which mental impairment can be dealt with before the law. In turn, offenders with cognitive impairments have received comparatively less academic attention. In our view, a key implication of this is that cognitive impairments are not well understood and consequently the law in this area remains unclear and uncertain.
Between 2005 and 2014, the offence of defensive homicide operated in Victoria under s 9AD of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic), creating a safety net for an accused person who used lethal violence in circumstances of a mental illness or impairment that did not amount to the restrictive defence of mental impairment. The defensive homicide offence captured the circumstances of a fatality, where a person killed with a genuine belief that they were acting in self-defence, but where that belief was proven to be unreasonable. Accordingly, this offence sat between murder and manslaughter in terms of legal and moral culpability.
During its almost 10–year operation, 20 offenders who presented evidence of experiencing a history of mental health problems — ranging from formal diagnoses of schizophrenia, bipolar, paranoia and trauma-related mental illness, to cognitive impairments and intellectual disabilities — were convicted of defensive homicide. Fourteen of these offenders had a guilty plea accepted by the Crown; the remaining six offenders were found guilty of this alternative offence following trial.
This article presents findings from an empirical study of defensive homicide cases and sentencing judgments from the introduction of the offence in November 2005, up until 21 September 2015. Over the 10–year period, we identified 34 defensive homicide convictions. However, due to privacy restrictions on one case, we were only able to access detailed information on 33 cases. Of the 33 accessible cases, 23 (70 per cent) involved the Crown accepting an accused’s guilty plea to defensive homicide, while the remaining 10 convictions involved a guilty verdict following trial. Eighty two per cent (n=27) of the cases involved a male perpetrator and male victim; 15 per cent (n=5) involved a female perpetrator and a male victim; and one case involved a male perpetrator and female victim. In this article, we focus on the 15 cases that involved male perpetrators who presented evidence of a history of mental illness and impairment, which were: (a) acknowledged by the judge in sentencing; and (b) acknowledged by the Crown in accepting a guilty plea, or the jury in reaching a guilty verdict for this alternative offence to murder. While drawing from all 15 cases, our analysis focuses specifically on three cases in which the offenders presented evidence of either intellectual disability or cognitive impairment: R v Trezise; R v Martin; and Director of Public Prosecutions (Vic) v Chen. We selected these cases because the cognitive impairments experienced by the three accuseds do not (and would not at the time have) fit the defence of mental impairment outlined in the Crimes (Mental Impairment and Unfitness to Be Tried) Act 1997 (Vic) (‘CMIA’). This means that these offenders would (likely) not have been able to access a mental impairment defence to claim a reduction in their moral culpability had defensive homicide not been operating. In other words, the accuseds may not have been able to plead or be found guilty of a charge less than murder, despite, as our analysis will demonstrate, the evident impact their cognitive impairments had on their levels of moral culpability.
The in-depth analysis of these three cases, coupled with a discussion of the 12 other cases involving an accused with a history of mental illness or cognitive impairment, allows us to test the vocal claims of the dominant abolitionist reformers, who argued that defensive homicide provided an avenue for morally culpable, violent men to ‘get away with murder’, and that the offence itself was not operating as intended. We have also selected the cases that involved these specific forms of mental impairment because these conditions have not been considered in the major studies examining defensive homicide in the context of male-on-male lethal violence to date. Our discussion thus provides new and critical insights into the operation of defensive homicide in the context of mental illness and impairment.
Drawing from the selected case studies, this article sheds light on the complexities surrounding mental impairment and seeks to generate discussion around the absence of mental impairment as a key focal point in the abolition debate. By arguing that these cases did in fact cohere with the intended scope of s 9AD of the Crimes Act 1958 (Vic) — which sought to take into account that people kill in a range of different circumstances and that their culpability may be affected by a range of factors — we challenge the dominant, populist voices that strongly informed the abolition of defensive homicide.
There are multiple complexities and nuances in cases involving a fatality. Our article provides a mere snapshot of some of these by drawing from the personal histories of men convicted of defensive homicide. We argue that these backgrounds are far more complex than the images and focal points used by the media and populist voices to advocate abolition. Additionally, we seek to demonstrate how defensive homicide did not absolve the legal responsibility of those found guilty (either by plea or trial), nor did it result in accused persons not being punished and facing periods of imprisonment for their actions. Instead, we argue that defensive homicide offered an opportunity for consideration to (rightly) be given to the accused’s level of mental illness and impairment, and its impact on their moral culpability, in a way that would not have been possible without the operation of this offence.
While we believe it is entirely reasonable that homicide is met with legal punishment and social denunciation, we argue that the abolition of defensive homicide was largely premature and insufficient attention was given to the fact that its abolition, combined with the restrictive operation of the CMIA, would result in situations where individuals with mental conditions insufficient to form the basis of the mental impairment defence would have no defence or appropriate alternative homicide offence available to them in Victorian law.
In light of recent research indicating that 38 per cent of Australian prison entrants have been told they have a mental health disorder and 42 per cent of Victoria’s prison population have been identified with a psychiatric risk indicating mental health concerns, we contend that there is a demonstrable need for Victoria to have an appropriate range of legal responses to deal with the nuances and complexities of lethal violence, particularly where the offender suffers from a mental illness or impairment.
Our article commences with a discussion of the link between mental illness and lethal violence and an overview of the current laws pertaining to mental impairment in Victoria. After considering the findings of recent reviews into mental impairment defences in Australia, we present a background to the abolition of defensive homicide, with a particular focus on the dominant, populist–abolitionist reformers’ voices that were prioritised in the debate and fuelled the offence’s rapid demise. We then present an in-depth analysis of our three selected case studies to highlight how the offence was working effectively in practice, capturing the very unique and complex circumstances inherent to homicide. The article concludes by showcasing some of the effects of the decision to abolish defensive homicide for accused persons suffering from a mental illness and impairment and summarising why we advocate for a greater range of legal responses to cover the nuance and complexities of lethal violence, including consideration of several of the recommendations arising from the Victorian Law Reform Commission’s (‘VLRC’) review of Victoria’s mental impairment laws.
The Productivity Commission has released its Trade and Assistance Review 2014-15, the latest of the annual quantitative estimates of Australian Government assistance to industry.
The Commission states that
The Commission states that
This year's review also explores how the size and nature of the assistance estimates might be influenced by recent developments such as the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the Defence Industry Statement and submarine procurement, programs to increase renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions, regional business investment programs and efforts targeted at business innovation.The Commission's Key Points are
For 2014-15, estimated assistance to industry (provided by the Australian Government) was $15.1 billion in gross terms.
It comprised $7.8 billion in tariff assistance, $4.2 billion in budgetary outlays and $3.1 billion in tax concessions. While tariff assistance is inherently distortionary, not all budgetary outlays create distortions that result in a misallocation of resources.
After deducting the cost penalty of tariffs on imported inputs ($7.5 billion, two-thirds incurred by services industries), net assistance to industry was $7.6 billion. The incidence of assistance varies widely between sectors.
Manufacturing received an estimated $7.0 billion in net assistance (largely due to tariff protection), Primary production received an estimated $1.3 billion (mostly through budgetary assistance), and Mining recorded a small but positive assistance ($0.3 billion).
The measured industry assistance arrangements imposed a net cost of $1.6 billion on services industries (as the tariff cost penalty on inputs outweighed budgetary assistance).
Of the eight categories of measured budgetary industry assistance the two largest are:
- R and D support (generally available to all industries and specific to rural industry), which represented around 40 per cent ($3.1 billion), the majority of which relates to the R and D Tax Incentive (around $2.2 billion)
- Industry specific assistance, which consists of a range of grants and concessions such as for the automotive, film, finance and ethanol industries, and represented 18 per cent ($1.3 billion) of measured assistance.
The measured estimates are conservative as they exclude significant assistance that is difficult to quantify. This includes: favourable finance (loans, debt, equity, guarantees); local purchasing preferences for defence equipment; and regulatory restrictions on competition. The estimates also exclude state and territory government support to industry.
A number of recent developments will likely add to the level of assistance in coming years. Measures providing assistance have been proposed in the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper, the Defence Industry Statement, programs to increase renewable energy and reduce carbon emissions, and programs targeted at innovation, collaboration and commercialisation.
Regional industry investment grant programs continue to be introduced as a response to the closure of iconic local employers. These schemes deliver high subsidy rates to recipient businesses, but the outcomes of these programs are uncertain. A review is needed to determine what design best assists displaced workers and regions to adjust.
Australia continues to negotiate on a wide array of trade agreements and in a multitude of membership forums. Apart from the conclusion of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and the China Australia Free Trade Agreement coming into force in December 2015, developments include:
- final arbitration in Australia's favour of the investor-state dispute in relation to tobacco plain packaging
- a tightening of screening thresholds for foreign investment proposals in Australian agribusiness and pastoral land purchase
In discussing Australia's plain packaging regime, the report comments
- an increase in anti-dumping protection.
Australia’s tobacco plain packaging legislation came into full effect on 1 December 2012. The legislation prohibits logos, brand imagery, colours and promotional text other than brand and product names in a standard colour, position, font style and size appearing on tobacco packaging. Tobacco plain packaging forms part of a range of tobacco control measures to reduce the rate of smoking in Australia.
Dispute against the Australian legislation by the tobacco companies or countries acting in their interests has been three pronged:
• under the WTO Dispute Resolution rules
• by Investor State Dispute arbitration conducted under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Arbitration Rules
• via Constitutional challenge.
The Constitutional challenges were unsuccessful in 2012. The ISDS arbitration dismissed the case in 2015 (after a substantial cost to taxpayers, some of which may be recouped). [One estimate of the legal costs for the first procedural hearing stage (as at June 2015) was $50 million (Martin 2015). Further costs have not been made public. In the 2016 17 Budget Paper No.1 international litigation related to plain packaging is listed.] The WTO disputes remain open.
Challenges to Australia’s tobacco plain packaging legislation
The WTO Dispute Settlement Body (DSB) has established dispute settlement panels at the requests of Ukraine (28 September 2012), Honduras (25 September 2013), Indonesia (26 March 2014), the Dominican Republic (25 April 2014), and Cuba (25 April 2014). In addition to the complainant countries, 41 other countries have requested (and been granted permission) to join the disputes as third parties. All five complainants claim that Australia’s tobacco plain packaging laws appear to be inconsistent with certain provisions of the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement, the Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT) Agreement, and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT 1994).
On 5 May 2014, the WTO Director General composed the panels in each of the five tobacco disputes. The same panellists have been appointed to hear the five disputes.
Investor State arbitration Dispute
Pursuant to the Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of Hong Kong for the Promotion and Protection of Investments, which entered into force in 1993, Philip Morris Asia Limited served Australia with a Notice of Claim (followed by a Notice of Arbitration) in 2011 over tobacco plain packaging requirements. This was the first investor state dispute brought against Australia.
The arbitration was conducted under the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law Arbitration Rules 2010. On 18 December 2015 the tribunal issued a unanimous decision agreeing with Australia's position that the tribunal has no jurisdiction to hear Philip Morris Asia's claim. On 17 May 2016 the tribunal published the decision with the parties' confidential information redacted. The tribunal found that Philip Morris Asia's claim was an abuse of process (abuse of rights), because Philip Morris Asia acquired an Australian subsidiary, Philip Morris (Australia) Limited, for the purpose of initiating the dispute under the Hong Kong Agreement. This concluded the arbitration in Australia's favour, subject to finalisation of the costs claim.
Two challenges to the tobacco plain packaging legislation were heard by the High Court of Australia 17–19 April 2012: British American Tobacco Australasia Limited and Ors v. Commonwealth of Australia and J T International SA v. Commonwealth of Australia.
On 15 August 2012, the High Court handed down orders for these matters, and found that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011 is not contrary to s 51(xxxi) of the Constitution. On 5 October 2012 the Court handed down its reasons for the decision. By a 6:1 majority (Heydon J in dissent) the Court held that there had been no acquisition of property that would have required provision of 'just terms' under s51(xxxi) of the Constitution.
24 July 2016
The South Australian government has released a discussion paper on domestic violence, including a proposal - based on the UK Clare's Law - that would allow people to use an application to the police to gain access to the criminal record of a potential partner, with applicants having to establish their the bona fides.
Eight topics in the paper are
Eight topics in the paper are
- Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme - Who should be able to find out about someone’s history of domestic violence offending? How should this scheme work?
- Expiry Dates on Intervention Orders - Should intervention orders (previously restraining orders) be able to expire?
- Comprehensive Collection of Data - What is the best way to ensure that accurate data relating to domestic violence is collected?
- Allowing Video Evidence - Should police video recordings from incidents be admissible as evidence at trial?
- Confidentiality - Should changes be made to improve the confidentiality in court of medical and counselling records?
- Drug and Alcohol Treatment - Should the courts send domestic violence offenders to be assessed for drug and alcohol problems?
- Housing and Homelessness Service Priorities - How can we best assist victims of domestic violence who are facing homelessness?
- Fostering Supportive Environments - How can we assist domestic violence victims to seek support in the workplace and other environments?
There is no system in South Australia that allows you to find out about a person’s history of domestic violence offending. The South Australian Government has committed to considering the development and implementation of a domestic violence disclosure scheme (DVDS) to make this possible. A DVDS would aim to reduce the incidents of domestic violence and strengthen the ability of police and agencies to provide protection and support to victims of abuse.
Under a DVDS, you can ask for information about a partner’s history as a domestic violence offender. A series of checks are then performed and a decision made about whether you are at risk and should be told about the person’s history.
Who Should be Allowed to Apply?
This is an important question open for community discussion. For example, should the scheme only be available to people in a current relationship, or should you be able to find out about a previous partner? We are also asking you to consider whether disclosure applications should be extended to include third parties, such as family, friends and colleagues.
The Application Process
A DVDS in South Australia must have a simple and accessible application process. In similar schemes in the UK and NSW, applications are made through the police. The police then determine whether a disclosure should be made based on whether it may prevent a future crime.
Disclosure of Information
The question of what information should be disclosed requires careful consideration. For example, should information be limited to prior convictions for relevant criminal offences, or should the threshold be wider to include intervention orders or allegations?
Once a decision is made to disclose information, a clear process should be put in place for how the disclosure should occur. Under the NSW scheme, a disclosure is made in person at a police station or other agreed place to the primary person (i.e. the person in the relationship). Support services are also present when a disclosure is made.
To ensure the person’s safety, the ‘subject’ of the disclosure is not advised that an application or disclosure has been made about them.
Community and expert views are sought on a number of key issues. We are asking you to consider the parameters and processes that should apply to a DVDS in South Australia. This includes who should be able to apply for a disclosure, how someone should apply for a disclosure, whether age limits should be enforced and the factors that should be considered when determining whether a disclosure should be made.The paper notes
The impact of the UK DVDS on the prevalence of domestic violence is still unknown as neither of the two assessments completed by the Home Office have considered the impact the scheme may have had on domestic abuse victims.
The NSW Scheme
On 6 March 2015, the NSW Government announced it would pilot a DVDS similar to the scheme introduced in the UK and released a discussion paper seeking comments on the proposed scheme. After wide public consultation, which included a roundtable and targeted workshops with government and non-government organisations, the Government announced, on 14 October 2015, that the DVDS would be piloted in four NSW Police Force Local Area Commands (Sutherland, St George, Oxley and Shoalhaven). The NSW DVDS was rolled out on 13 April 2016 and will be evaluated over two years. NSW Police will receive and review all applications made by a person who is concerned about their partner, or a concerned third party, to find out if their partner has a history of domestic violence.
Under the NSW DVDS, a third party includes someone who has some form of contact with the primary person, e.g. family, friends or legal guardians. It also includes professionals working with a member of the family. On receipt of an application, NSW Police will check whether a relevant conviction exists that leads to a disclosure being made to the primary person. A conviction will be disclosed where the person who is the subject of the application has a relevant offence in their criminal history. Relevant offences include personal violence offences committed in a domestic relationship and certain specific personal violence offences committed outside of a domestic relationship. Breaches of apprehended violence orders will also be disclosed as they constitute a criminal offence.
Offences and orders that will not be disclosed under the NSW scheme include spent convictions and apprehended domestic violence orders.
A disclosure will be made in person at a police station or other agreed safe place, and the person receiving the information will be required to sign an undertaking that they will not misuse any information disclosed. Also present at the time of disclosure will be an expert from a domestic and family violence support service to provide support and help plan for the person’s safety. Support services will be present regardless of whether a disclosure is made or where a primary person is advised that no relevant conviction exists. This ensures that the primary person will have immediate access to the necessary support that is required when making a decision about their safety. The NSW Government also announced that it was investing $2.3 million to assist non-government organisations provide specialist services in the four local command areas ...
Disclosure of Information
In the UK, police have a common law power to disclose information where it is necessary to prevent a crime. However, any disclosures must be made in accordance with existing statutory obligations, such as the Data Protection Act 1998 and the Human Rights Act 1998. The UK Home Office DVDS Guidance 60 states that information sharing must: • be lawful, for example, the prevention, detection, investigation and punishment of a serious crime and the prevention of abuse or serious harm will usually be sufficiently strong public interests to override the duty of confidence; • comply with the eight Data Protection Principles set out in the Data Protection Act 1998; • be necessary; and • be proportionate.
The question of what information should be disclosed requires careful consideration. In the UK, Annex A of the DVDS Guidance sets out a non-exhaustive list of offences that may be disclosed. The only limitation is in relation to spent convictions which cannot be disclosed.
Disclosure under the NSW DVDS is limited to relevant offences which include personal violence offences committed in a domestic relationship, stalking, intimidation, breaches of Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders and specific personal violence offences, such as sexual offences, child abuse offences or murder, where they were committed outside of a domestic relationship. Offences that cannot be disclosed under the NSW scheme include offences from jurisdictions outside NSW, offences where no conviction has been recorded, spent convictions, juvenile convictions, Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders and any other offence not listed in the relevant offences list.
SAPOL is of the view that any initiative which increases awareness and safety for victims, particularly in a preventative capacity, is worthy of favourable consideration. However, SAPOL has some reservations relative to the NSW pilot model and its restricted criteria for information release. The NSW DVDS will not disclose convictions for offences which have occurred outside of NSW, offences where no conviction is recorded, spent convictions, juvenile convictions, or the presence of an order (unless there are breaches).
In the view of SAPOL, this approach leaves significant gaps in information sharing as offences which have not resulted in a conviction are not identified in this process. Similarly, other contextual factors which may place a victim at higher risk (for example, misuse of alcohol or other drugs and mental health issues) would not be revealed.
SAPOL has noted that if the disclosure parameters were broadened, it would increase victim safety but would come at a resourcing cost (noting that the model is resource intensive for police). SAPOL also noted that it is unknown, at this early stage of the NSW pilot, how many applications may be received. In addition to the work generated by the application process which includes a risk assessment process, it is highly likely that disclosures will be made to in a face-to-face meeting. This in turn would generate further work in both supporting victims and investigating offences.
The disclosure of information by Government agencies in South Australia is governed by the Information Privacy Principles and the Information Sharing Guidelines. An agency may disclose personal information about a person to a third party in a number of circumstances including where the disclosure is required or authorised by, or under, law and if the person disclosing the information believes on reasonable grounds that the disclosure is necessary to prevent or lessen a serious threat to the life, health or safety of a person.
The question of what information should be able to be disclosed requires careful consideration. Disclosure of all offences may not be necessary or proportionate and could undermine an individual’s basic right to privacy. A similar issue arises in relation to the disclosure of intervention orders. An intervention order is a civil order that does not require a finding of guilt by a court that the alleged perpetrator has committed a criminal offence. Indeed, an intervention order can be made by mutual consent without any admissions by the defendant as to the matters in issue. A breach of an intervention order, on the other hand, is a criminal offence.
Careful attention should therefore be given to the question of whether the disclosure of information should be limited to prior convictions for relevant criminal offences (for example, domestic violence offences, sexual offences and some offences against the person that involve violence) or whether the threshold should be wider? Should it include intervention orders and/or charges or allegations relating to relevant offences?
In the UK, a two-stage process is adopted in the DVDS. The first step is to determine whether there is a need for the disclosure in order to prevent abuse or serious harm. The second step requires consideration of the legal principles discussed above.In discussing confidentiality the paper indicates
In South Australia, counselling and medical records can be called upon as evidence during legal proceedings. This applies to domestic violence counselling.
There are two circumstances in which communications are protected under the law from being disclosed in legal proceedings:
- communications that occur between a lawyer and their client
- communications that occur during counselling relating to sexual assault. This protection cannot be waived, even if both the victim and the counsellor agree to it being disclosed.
Should changes be made to improve the confidentiality in court of medical and counselling records?It comments
[T]he SDC recommended the Attorney-General amend the Evidence Act 1929 (SA) to improve confidentiality of client records for victims of domestic and family violence.
The issue of confidentiality of client case records concerning victims of domestic violence was also raised in evidence before the SDC. The example given was a defamation action taken in the small claims court, by an alleged perpetrator, against a domestic violence service who held sensitive and confidential case notes containing information provided by the victim. The agency settled the action at significant cost on the understanding that, if the action was defended, information contained in the case notes would be required to be released to the plaintiff (the perpetrator) in the discovery process. Under the common law, the only relationship in which communications are protected from disclosure in court is that between a lawyer and a client. There is no general client privilege that protects counselling records from disclosure. The confidentiality of counselling records is therefore limited, as access to these records can be requested in relation to legal proceedings under subpoena. Agencies could argue that disclosure of the notes would be prejudicial to the client if revealed in court or that it would otherwise be contrary to the interests of justice to admit the document in evidence. It would then be up to the court to determine whether or not the records should be admitted into evidence.
What we have currently in South Australia is a protection for sexual assault counselling communications. Part 7, Division 9 of the Evidence Act 1929 (SA) provides that “a communication relating to a victim or alleged victim of a sexual offence is, if made in a therapeutic context, protected from disclosure in legal proceedings by public interest immunity”. This protection cannot be waived, even if the counsellor or the victim agree to its disclosure. Section 67F further provides that evidence of a protected communication is entirely inadmissible in committal proceedings, is not liable to discovery or any other form of pre-trial disclosure and cannot be admitted in other legal proceedings unless the court gives permission and the admission of the evidence is consistent with any limitations or restrictions fixed by the court.
There is no general privilege currently in South Australia for medical records or other records produced where there is a duty of confidentiality, or an expectation of confidentiality by the victim. Whether or not some form of client privilege should apply, either generally, or limited to domestic violence counselling records, therefore requires careful consideration.
Community and expert views are sought on whether amendments to the Evidence Act 1929 (SA) are warranted to improve confidentiality for client records for domestic violence victims.