It has been a fairly newsworthy week in the legal world. The Queensland government has been exploring legislation which would make it an offence for ministers of religion to fail to report offending against children. This is of particular concern to the Catholic Church, for whom the sanctity of the confessional is held above all.
Balanced against that, of course, is the astonishing damage that paedophiles do if they are not stopped, and the simple fact that our law should—and indeed must—apply to everyone equally. There is also the concern that paedophiles may use this process almost as a ‘permission slip’—that is, when an offending junior priest confesses his crime to his superior, he effectively seals the lips of the one person who is most likely to either discover his offending or receive complaints about it.
I pause to note here that some priests would counter that the seal of confessional applies only to sins confessed by the perpetrator, and would not affect information from other sources. That again raises the issue of church officials selecting when and how secular laws apply to them, which is in direct contravention of our democratic principles, but also shows how nuanced and confusing this debate can be.
This complex issue must of course be the subject of proper consultation, and this is just what QLS will do, and we are keen to hear what you, our members, think of this. Those who wish to make submissions should direct them to our advocacy team.
On a not-unrelated matter, we also saw the failure of Cardinal Pell’s appeal against his conviction for child sexual abuse. Cardinal Pell’s lawyers are of course considering an appeal, and it would not be appropriate to speculate too much about the outcome. What is of great concern and must be addressed, however, is the explosion of ‘expert’ commentary in the wake of the decision, much of it from Pell’s supporters and calling into question the veracity of the decision. Some of this commentary has come from people with no legal qualifications whatsoever, who often raise the fact that argument that the majority judges’ opinions are less valid because they are not as experienced in criminal law as the dissenting judge. I suspect the irony of this is lost on them, as is the insult they deliver to the majority.
The real problem is that this unqualified pontification is consuming the debate. We need to combat this with reasoned and knowledgeable commentary; the opinions of people who actually appear in court must be heard. I have been interviewed on several occasions in relation to the above points and will continue to speak out, but I think it is incumbent on all of us to take the chance to edify the public whenever we can.
Solicitors have the privilege to know the score on these issues, and the duty to act. We need to lead these conversations in our communities, on the two specific issues I raise above and on all issues pertaining to the justice system and our profession. It is the only way to ensure mature, informed debate, and also to prevent the unqualified and the permanently outraged from dominating the public discourse.
On a much happier note, I had a great time at the Kingaroy intensive, catching up with members and enjoying the hospitality of our hosts at the Oasis Motel. I have mentioned before that these regional sojourns are restorative, and so this one proved to be. Even the drive up was relaxing, through very beautiful country, albeit that the people out there would love some rain. If you happen to be tossing a coin into a wishing well, include a wish or three for a few good old-fashioned Queensland downpours out there.
One of the great sessions was on Cyber-security by QLS’ own cyber-guru David Bowles; I know we at QLS harp on about this, but it is simply that important. If you can’t get along to one of our live sessions there is a treasure trove of resources on our cyber-security page, as well as some on-demand CPD sessions available at the QLS Store.
Until next time,
Bill Potts, QLS President