In Tasmania, complainant anonymity is governed by section 194K of the Evidence Act 2001. When introduced, the law, like anonymity laws around the world, aimed to prohibit the identification of victims in sexual offence cases, with the view to protecting the privacy, safety and welfare of complainants.
Section 194K prohibited the identification of complainants in sexual offence cases. The only exception to this prohibition was in the event of a court order. A court could make an order where it was satisfied that it was in the public interest to do so.
This meant that, even where a complainant was an adult at the time of the publication and had consented to being identified, this was not possible. Essentially, victims of sexual crimes could not waive their anonymity without a court order.
Calls for law reform began to mount in recent years. The #LetHerSpeak Tasmania Campaign was created by journalist and sexual assault survivor advocate Nina Funnell, in partnership with Marque Lawyers and End Rape On Campus Australia.
The campaign reported that, while some survivors did want to speak publicly about their cases, the process of obtaining a court order was largely inaccessible. They reported that “fewer than five victim-survivors have ever successfully undertaken this process and been granted a court order so they can be publicly identified. Those who have, have found it costly, stressful, time consuming, disempowering and, at times, re-traumatising.” They noted that survivors they worked with “maintain that the law should be reformed to bring it into alignment with other jurisdictions so that survivors are not financially penalized or emotionally burdened in order to be able to tell their stories.”
In response to these growing calls for law reform, the Evidence Amendment Bill 2020 was introduced. The Bill inserted a new section 194K into the 2001 Act. The new section provided that the identity of a victim could be made public with the permission of the victim or with the permission of the court. In order for the complainant to give permission, they must be 18 years old at the time they give consent and the information is published. They must consent in writing and have understood at the time the consent was given, that he or she may be identified, or identifiable, as a result of the publication of the identifying information. They must also not have been coerced into consenting to the publication. Information identifying the complainant can only be released after the criminal court case is complete. It remains an offence to disclose the identity of a complainant without permission which can attract fines or a prison sentence.
The new law came into force on 6 April 2020.
To learn more about the law reform process in Tasmania, see:
Tasmanian Government Department of Justice, Fact sheet on changes to the Tasmanian Evidence Act 2001 – section 194K https://www.justice.tas.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/575659/Evidenceact194-factsheet.pdf
Sara McWhirter (GCU Law, LLB3) and Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe (Lecturer in Law)