QLS opposes change to 120-year-old sexual consent laws

Media release - 3 September 2019

Queensland’s peak legal body is poised to strenuously oppose any proposed changes to controversial sexual consent laws in a submission to the Queensland Law Reform Commission.

Queensland Law Society President Bill Potts on Tuesday (Sept 3) said many in the legal profession were of the view there was no compelling evidence to warrant changes to existing laws – established in 1899 – which guaranteed an individual’s right of a "mistaken belief" defence in sexual assault cases.

However, Mr Potts conceded there was a view among some practitioners who believed changes were needed.

"While we are not aware of compelling evidence to change the existing provisions, QLS is supportive of a reference being made to the QLRC for a proper examination of the issue," Mr Potts said.

He said the QLRC was best placed to provide informed, evidence-based advice on this important issue.

"We don't accept that a 'mistaken fact' defence is easy to make out and it's certainly not a get out of jail free excuse … but nevertheless, a discussion and evidence-based response from the QLRC is a welcome approach on such an important matter," Mr Potts said today.

"We support an objective review of the laws to determine if they are still effective and responsive to community standards.''

His comments follow Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D’Aths release of the Terms of Reference regarding the QLRC review late on Monday.

QLS’s September edition of its Proctor Magazine tackles the tough subject head-on by seeking the opinions of leading professionals who oppose reform – Barrister Laura Reece and QLS Criminal Law Committee Chair Rebecca Fogerty, and who support it -- Women’s Legal Service Queensland President Professor Rachael Field and Bond University Law Professor Jonathan Crowe.

Both Ms Reece and Ms Fogerty oppose proposed change – saying a recent media coverage of the topic had been "alarmist and misleading" and that to remove a "mistake of fact" defence under Section 24 of the Queensland Criminal would undermine the integrity of our system of justice.

However, Professors Field and Crowe argue existing laws are outdated and must be reformed to ensure justice for victims.

Mr Potts said QLS launched a campaign – championed by the Society’s Criminal Law Committee – more than a year ago arguing that while the legal profession did not believe there was any compelling evidence to change the laws, it supported any QLRC review.

He said the Society remained ready and willing to engage with the QLRC and government agencies on this topic and would welcome any further consultation.

"I am particularly keen the public discourse and any assessment of our existing laws is evidence-led," he said.


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