By -

The NSW Liberal and Nationals Government says it will invest $64.3 million over four years to expand the Child Sexual Offences Evidence Program (CSOEP) across NSW if re-elected. The CSOEP allows children to pre-record their evidence without having to face their alleged abuser in court. It also provides children with an intermediary to support them during police interviews and hearings.

“Child sexual abuse is one of the most heinous crimes, and those children who have already endured the unimaginable should not have to suffer further at the hands of a justice system designed for adults,” said Premier Dominic Perrottet.

The expansion of the program was inspired by Rose and Pippa Milthorpe, two sisters who were abused as children and waived their right to anonymity to share their story.

After a harrowing court experience, Rose and Pippa fronted the ‘Justice Shouldn’t Hurt’ campaign calling for the expansion of CSOEP to make court processes less traumatic for children in sexual abuse cases.

“My experience with the court system was quite traumatic,” said Pippa. “I was under questioning for five days. I couldn’t understand half the language that was used.

“It was very scary, especially as an 11-year-old talking to mature adults that you’ve never met before about something that personal.”

The sisters were five and eight years old when they first reported the abuse to police. They were then forced to wait over two years for a trial.

“Those huge delays are not good for the memory. And then they use that against you to suggest you are a liar or making it up,” said Pippa.

After reading their story, Dominic Perrottet said, “As soon as I read it, [I thought] we’re going to fix this, and we’re going to roll it out so that no other child ever has to go through what Pippa and Rose went through”.

The CSOEP was previously piloted in 2016 in two court locations – the Sydney (Downing Centre) District Court and the Newcastle District Court. In 2018, the government invested $28 million to make the program permanent in both courts.

Cassandra Banks, President of the Law Society of NSW Cassandra Banks, President of the Law Society of NSW

“The gaps in the practice of children’s advocacy can be seen as part of a larger cycle. Children fall through the cracks because the area is under-resourced”

An independent assessment conducted by the University of NSW revealed that the program received strong support from the participants, reduced stress and led to better-quality evidence from child witnesses.

“Our government led the nation when we piloted this program and now we want to make sure that every child – no matter where they live in our state – can access this support,” said Perrottet.

From 1 July 2023, the program will be rolled out to every district court and police district in NSW. The program is consistent with recommendations made in the final report by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2017.

Attorney General Mark Speakman called NSW “nation-leading” by making the CSOEP permanent and statewide. He said the program is necessary to strengthen the state’s criminal justice response to child sexual abuse.

“Re-traumatising a complainant does not advance justice,” said Speakman.

“We need to do all we can to ensure that children and young people who have been sexually abused are supported through the court experience, so they can begin the process of rebuilding their lives.”

At the Opening of Law Term Dinner on 1 February, President of the Law Society of NSW Cassandra Banks delivered a speech calling for more resources and support for the care and protection system.

“The gaps in the practice of children’s advocacy can be seen as part of a larger cycle. Children fall through the cracks because the area is under-resourced,” said Banks.

“Improving outcomes for children and young people and the importance of legal practitioners within the care and protection system has become a focus of my legal career and is one of my priorities this year.”