In July of this year the Women’s Safety & Justice Taskforce released its report dealing with Women & Girls’ experiences across the criminal justice system.


This is a first of a series of short articles which will examine the main recommendations of the Report.  Any criticism of proposed changes will appear under the heading “Comment”.


The Taskforce was chaired by the Honourable Margaret McMurdo AC who was president of the Queensland Court of Appeal until March 2017.  The other members of the taskforce were:-


  • Dr Nora Amath from the Islamic Women’s Association of Australia
  • Deputy Commissioner Tracy Linford APM, Queensland Police Service
  • Di MacLeod, Deputy Chair, Queensland Sexual Assault Network
  • Philip McCarthy QC, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions (Qld)
  • Gillian O’Brien, Manager of WWild, a sexual violence prevention association supporting people with intellectual or learning disabilities who have experienced sexual violence
  • Professor Patrick O’Leary, Griffith University who has worked in the area of gendered violence as a social worker and now researcher for over 25 years
  • Alexis Oxley, Solicitor Legal Aid Queensland who was admitted in 2002 and has practised in family law and criminal law for 8 years
  • Laura Reece, Barrister since 2006 and a member of the Criminal Law & Human Rights Committee of the Queensland Bar Association
  • Thelma Schwartz, Principal Legal Officer, Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service
  • Kelly-ann Tansley who has extensive experience delivering domestic violence services in Queensland.


In the Foreword, it was noted that the Taskforce received 19 submissions from women who are offenders and 250 submissions from victim-survivors of sexual assault. The Taskforce held 79 consultations with stakeholders.


The Foreword notes that victims of sexual assault told the Taskforce that they want changes to the laws about sexual assault including the way police, prosecutors and defence lawyers treat them and the way trials are conducted.


The report makes 188 recommendations described in the Foreword as “about changing the law relating to sexual assault and improving criminal justice responses…”


In the Introduction to the Report it was noted that victim-survivors told the Taskforce that it felt to them as if the legal system starts from the position that an accusation of sexual violence is a lie and works its way backwards to discover if that accusation is true.  The Introduction notes that ‘that is often a fair observation’.


The Introduction notes that victim-survivors of sexual violence experience the flipside of the presumption of innocence which will necessarily require some focus on the credibility of a person who makes an accusation of sexual violence against another person.


The Introduction notes that the Taskforce has agreed with the observation that it should not be necessary for the legal process to humiliate a victim-survivor in order to determine whether they are credible and reliable and that women and girls think courts, defence lawyers and prosecutors could do better.


This report, and its recommendations, might significantly change the way in which serious criminal allegations are investigated and litigated. It is vital the defence lawyers, and all persons who work in the criminal justice system, understand these significant recommendations.


The next in this series of short articles about the Taskforce Report will concentrate on the main recommendations for change arising out of the Taskforce’s work.



Terry O’Gorman

Robertson O’Gorman