This paper considers the debate surrounding the right of a person accused of
a sexual offence to cross-examine the complainant. It considers the various
rights of the accused and discusses the experience of complainants in court. It
contemplates whether the experience of sexual assault complainants is unique
and thus if special protection is required. However, whilst this paper does
consider the issues surrounding cross-examination in general, particular
attention is given to the situation where the defendant is not represented.
The various offences that are encompassed by the term ‘sexual
offences’ are outlined in section 2 (pp 2-4). An overview of
cross-examination is provided in section 3 (pp 4-5) followed by consideration
of the arguments that have been advanced in support of the idea that the sexual
assault complainant’s experience of cross-examination is unique (section
4: pp 5-9). The rights of a victim of crime are briefly considered in section 5
Section 6 examines the relevant laws as they currently stand in New South
Wales (pp 9-12). An overview of the law in each Australian jurisdiction
(section 7: pp 12-16), as well as a sample of the situation outside Australia
(section 8: pp 17-19), is provided to aid comparison.
Three case studies are explored in section 9 (pp 19-21). These are intended
to facilitate consideration of some of the dangers inherent in a defendant
being entitled to cross-examine the complainant of a sexual offence in person.
The arguments for and against an unrepresented defendant being able to
directly cross-examine a sexual offence complainant are canvassed in sections
10 (pp 21-23) and 11 (pp 23-26) respectively.
Section 12 outlines six options for how the law in this area could be
reformed (pp 26-29). Finally, the proposed Criminal Procedure Amendment
(Sexual Offence Evidence) Bill 2003 is discussed in section 13 (pp 30-31).
A copy of the proposed Bill is attached as Appendix A.
Some of the recommendations made by the New South Wales Law Reform
Commission in their report, Questioning of Complainants by Unrepresented
Accused in Sexual Offence Trials , June 2003, are discussed throughout,
with the full text of the recommendations included as Appendix B.