MEMBER for Mount Gambier Troy Bell has opposed a bill to publicly name people charged with sex offences once they face court, saying he will not support any legislation that could lead to the death of an innocent person.
Under the current legislation, defendants charged with a sexual offence are given an automatic suppression until they plead guilty, or are committed for trial to a higher court.
Under the State Government’s proposed reforms, automatic suppression orders would no longer be in place after the first court hearing.
In a stirring speech in parliament on Wednesday, Mr Bell said under the proposed legislation those wrongly accused of a sexual offence could have their lives destroyed through trial by media.
“I think it is dangerous,” he said. “I think it will lead to innocent people taking their own lives and I will not be part of any bill that passes this house that has such a serious outcome for innocent people in my community.”
While he accepted the point that offender’s should be exonerated on the front pages of newspapers once there innocence is proven, Mr Bell said it does not occur.
“The damage is already done and these people who are found innocent or the charges are withdrawn not only have their lives destroyed and their families’ lives destroyed, but they face serious obstacles going forward,” Mr Bell said.
“They are the ones I am talking about.”
“I think we should throw the book at anybody who is found guilty of an offence and the media have every avenue at the moment to be able to do this.”
He cited four instances where he had been approached by a person accused of an offence who later had their charges dropped or were found not guilty.
“All four of those people would have had their name and faces plastered all across not only local but national newspapers, later to be found not guilty or the charges were withdrawn,” he said.
“Not only would their lives be destroyed and they are already significantly impacted at the moment, but my greatest fear is that on at least two occasions they would have taken their own life before it even went to trial or the charges were dismissed.”
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman addressed Bell’s views by stating the question of damage to a falsely accused is one that has been in focus for 15 years.
“It is a compelling argument for consideration,” Ms Chapman said.
“People can be very badly affected by a false allegation, no matter what it is.
“Whilst I appreciate that to be falsely accused of a crime that is heinous may cause irreparable damage to the mental well-being of the accused, we also have to remember that others may be in that category.”