Judge to review impact of new laws on confessional seal

Julie Dodds-Streeton (Melbourne Law School)

A former federal court judge is set to review incoming laws that will require priests to break the seal of confession to report child abuse in the ACT. Source: Canberra Times.

Julie Dodds-Streeton QC will hand a review to ACT Attorney-General next month on how new laws stemming from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse impact on the confessional seal.

The ACT’s parliament in June voted to extend the territory’s reportable conduct scheme to the confessional, despite concerns about the law’s impact on religious freedoms.

The provision will take effect after March 31 and would require religious organisations to report allegations, offences or convictions related to children to the ACT Ombudsman within 30 days, even if the information was gleaned under the seal of confession.

A Justice and Community Safety Directorate spokeswoman said Justice Dodds-Streeton will provide advice on how best to implement the relevant recommendations in a manner that is consistent across different reporting obligations, and takes account of constitutional law and human rights considerations.

Justice Dodds-Streeton has been asked to consult directly with a range of organisations most affected by the reforms, including churches and agencies responsible for the operation of existing reporting schemes.

She will also meet with representatives of organisations representing survivors of child sexual abuse.

“The analysis report will identify any legal issues associated with the proposed reforms, and options to resolve or mitigate them, to meet the object of requiring reporting of information obtained from the confessional,” the spokeswoman said.

However the spokeswoman said there were no plans at this stage to push back or scrap the extension of mandatory reporting to the confessional. She said the government would decide whether to release the review early next year.

Canberra-Goulburn Archbishop Christopher Prowse publicly warned the government not to ignore the concerns of the Catholic community the day before the legislation was passed.

The Australian Catholics Bishops Conference also wrote to ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr in July warning children would be “less safe” because of the laws.


Former federal court judge to review ACT’s confessional laws (Canberra Times

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