PACFA submission to consultation on Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege

PACFA has made a submission to the Queensland Government’s consultation on the Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege. The submission was endorsed by PACFA’s leading Queensland-based Member Association, the Queensland Counsellors Association (QCA).

In the submission, PACFA advocates for the adoption of strengthened provisions in Queensland around the Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege. In other jurisdictions there are already arrangements in place to protect the privacy of the counselling relationship by making communications that take place in counselling privileged. This means the counselling communications could not be adduced as evidence in criminal proceedings for the sexual assault unless the victim or survivor agrees, or if the court grants leave to do so.

Counselling is an essential part of the recovery process for victims and survivors of sexual assault. Changes to the privilege are required in Queensland to ensure that victims and survivors are encouraged to access counselling services to support their recovery, mental health and wellbeing. These services should be accessible to all who need them, without fear that their confidentiality will be breached during criminal proceedings. This is consistent with best practice in counselling and psychotherapy as detailed in the PACFA Code of Ethics (PACFA, 2015).

In the submission PACFA argues in favour of a consistent application of the sexual assault counselling privilege in Queensland, largely reflecting the approach already adopted in NSW. Importantly, PACFA’s submission looks at the trauma experienced by victims or survivors of sexual assault and recommends that they should have automatic status as “special witnesses” in the same way that victims or survivors of domestic violence already have this status. Research evidence shows there are particular risks of posttraumatic stress disorder as a result of being re-traumatised by the process of giving evidence in criminal proceedings. Special care is taken when these vulnerable witnesses give evidence in court to minimise the trauma of the process.

PACFA also considers the importance of protecting third parties, such as family members, who may also participate in counselling and who may wish to protect their rights to confidentiality.

PACFA has offered to work with the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney General to develop practice guidelines to help practitioners explain to sexual assault counselling clients when and how the sexual assault counselling privilege applies and to ensure they understand their rights.

To download PACFA’s submission, see the PACFA submission to Queensland Government Consultation on Sexual Assault Counselling Privilege.