The ACT government got a judicial wake-up call this week from Victims of Crime Commissioner John Hinchey, who urged it to commit to lifting time limitations that restrict victims of child sexual abuse from taking criminal action through the courts. Mr Hinchey's request was intended to alert the ACT government to the fact that, with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse having begun hearing the stories of Canberra people in private sessions on Wednesday, every effort must be made to open the way ''for victims of crime to report offences that have been committed against them''.
The period for which legal action may be taken in regard to certain offences in the ACT, including indecent assault, is just 12 months, and Mr Hinchey believes that this denies justice to people who choose not to report sexual abuse crimes immediately (usually out of shame, self-blame, embarrassment, fear of reprisal, family pressures and so on), but may wish to do so now that the issue is out in the open.
The ACT is not alone among the states and territories in having statutes of limitation on sex crimes - the reasoning based on the judicial idea that where there is delay ''the whole quality of justice deteriorates''. That is, with the passage of time, the fading of memories, the death of witnesses, and the disappearance of documents and so on, the prospects of a fair trial are considerably reduced. Yet the ACT stands out for the brevity of its statute of limitations on indecent assault, the result apparently of a legislative oversight in 1976.
There was a reminder of the ramification of this ''oversight'' in April 2012, when a Canberra man escaped prosecution for molesting his son despite making admissions to police. After the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions raised the matter, Attorney-General Simon Corbell said he had asked his directorate to ''look closely at the issue and consult with justice stakeholders''. Some 18 months later, Mr Corbell is unable to say when the issue might be dealt with, save that the government will move on it this term.
Mr Corbell is correct to point out that ''careful examination is necessary before any retrospective amendment to criminal procedure law is made'', but with the federal government having urged states and territories to lift time limitations as far back as 2004, some people may be forgiven for pondering the Attorney-General's procrastination.
Few answers from army probe
n Afghan National Army soldier alleged to have killed three unarmed Australian Diggers in August 2012 has been transferred from Pakistan to authorities in Afghanistan, clearing the way for a murder trial and possible death sentence. The deaths of the three soldiers remains one the Australian Defence Force's blackest days in the Afghanistan war, a sombre fact attested to in an official army report released last week. It found the security and protection measures at the isolated base where the incident occurred were inadequate. Perhaps because of this, the alleged assailant, Sergeant Hekmatullah, escaped. A reward was posted for his capture, but he remained at large until February this year before being detained in Pakistan.
Because the focus of the ADF inquiry was on force protection issues, and because the officer in charge apparently did not visit the crime scene or interview Afghan soldiers, little is known of Sergeant Hekmatullah or his possible motivations. What was discovered in the course of investigations was that he enlisted in the ANA under false papers, that he was rapidly promoted to sergeant and that on the afternoon of the shootings, he left the base to make a mobile phone call. Controversially, the report asserted there was no evidence that Sergeant Hekmatullah was a sleeper agent of the Taliban. His trial should go some way towards answering these important questions. It will be closely watched within the ADF - and by the families of the three men, who have been critical of the army's findings and want an official inquest by the Queensland state coroner.