Mandatory Reporting Laws
National news headlines involving Broome Bishop Christopher Saunders surfaced again last month. This time via an independent investigation commissioned by the Vatican which has accused him of sexually assaulting four indigenous youths and grooming others.
It is unusual for the Vatican to make accusations against its own clergy, but these are the result of an internal investigation that has been going on for some time.
Recently the Vatican handed its file to the police for consideration.
While there were police investigations with regard to “a number of complaints regarding a member of the Catholic Church in the Kimberley region” here in Western Australia several years ago, there has been insufficient evidence to lay any criminal charges.
There has been speculation that the police investigations were hampered by obstacles which included language and cultural barriers as well as a mistrust in police.
Bishop Saunders has strenuously denied any wrongdoing and he has never been charged with an offence. He is indeed presumed to be innocent. The presumption of innocence is afforded to each and every person under our law and it is only displaced when a person is proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law.
The presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle of common law and the cornerstone of our criminal justice system. The principle frequently tends to be forgotten or ignored when someone with a high profile makes headlines, accused of a serious criminal offence.
Mandatory reporting of child abuse and serious neglect in Western Australia
One thing the Vatican has been keen to stress since it handed over its report to authorities, is that it has not breached mandatory reporting laws and that it did not identify that any alleged victims were under the age of 18 years.
Children and Community Services Act 2004.
In Western Australia, mandatory reporting is primarily governed by the Children and Community Services Act 2004.
Since 2009, doctors, nurses, midwives, teachers, and police officers have been mandated to report child sexual abuse. Boarding supervisors were included as mandatory reporters of child sexual abuse in 2016.
After the final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse was handed down in 2017, the Western Australian Government introduced the Children and Community Services Amendment Act which was legislated in 2021.
It broadened the field of mandatory reporters to include ministers of religion, assessors who visit residential and secure care facilities, departmental officers of communities, early childhood workers, out-of-home care workers, psychologists, school counsellors, and youth justice workers.
The professions are still being included in a staggered way, to ensure individuals and organisations receive adequate training on their responsibilities under the law, prior to being subject to the mandatory reporting requirements.
All of these professions will be included in the law by 2025.
The second important purpose of the legislation is to achieve consistency, in the early identification and reporting of child sexual abuse, with the minimum requirements of the national standard.
It’s considered important that all states and territories work within a similar legislated framework because child abuse is often a criminal activity that traverses geographical locations.
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PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.