South Australian legal reforms that strip alleged sex offenders of their right to anonymity have been hailed as an important safety measure by the victim of a notorious paedophile.
But senior legal figures have warned the change could lead to vigilante justice and destroy the reputations of those who are charged but later acquitted.
The changes, which have come into effect today, mean anyone charged with a sex offence can be named from their first court appearance.
One of two brothers preyed on by convicted paedophile Vivian Deboo in the 1990s said the move would bolster public safety.
“As a community, for us to be aware of who people being charged with these offences are, is probably a very good thing, I think, for safety,” the victim, known as brother B, told ABC Radio Adelaide.
“If [a] neighbour … had been charged with a child sex crime, I would want to know about that.”
In early March, State Parliament passed the changes, which rewrite part of the Evidence Act, but SA Police and the Courts Administration Authority were allowed time to adapt their internal processes.
Previously, the identity of alleged offenders was protected until they pleaded guilty or were committed for trial.
Under the changes, an accused can still keep their identity secret if they can convince a judge there is good reason for a suppression order.
An alleged sex offender will also remain anonymous if there is a risk that revealing their identity would also identify a victim.
‘Right to know’ versus ‘destroyed reputations’
Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said she was proud the State Government had removed the “archaic” law.
“I believe that, in the vast majority of cases, the public has the right to know the identity of someone who has been charged with an offence of this nature,” she said.
However, Tony Kerin of the Law Society of South Australia said the amendment created more problems than it solved.
“Accused persons can now have reputations and quality of life destroyed, even if they’re not guilty,” he said.