Families of deceased sexual assault victims will no longer be at risk of prosecution for speaking out about their loved ones, under changes to a Victorian law.
The Judicial Proceedings Reports Amendment Bill 2021 makes it clear it is legal to publish identifying details of a deceased victim of a sexual offence, provided doing so does not identify another victim who wishes to remain anonymous.
It comes after proposed laws introduced to parliament last year criminalised the naming of deceased sexual assault victims without a court order.
The laws were strongly criticised at the time by relatives of murdered women Jill Meagher and Aiia Maasarwe and child sex abuse victims' advocate Chrissie Foster.
Under the new bill, a family member, partner or close friend of a deceased victim will also be able to apply for a victim privacy order (VPO) if they don't want a deceased loved one named publicly.
The order can last for up to five years but a convicted or alleged perpetrator cannot apply for one, even if they are a family member or close friend.
Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes says a VPO will only be granted "where it is necessary to avoid undue distress to the person applying for the order, and where this risk outweighs the strong public interest in freedom of expression, free media reporting and open justice".
She says the changes "strike the right balance" between privacy for those who want it and freedom for those who want to speak out.
"Every time we speak up against sexual assault, it becomes easier for others to speak about it too," Ms Symes said.
"It's important that our justice system supports this to happen while respecting the wishes of those who want to remain private."
Premier Daniel Andrews said the changes were developed following extensive consultation with sexual assault survivors and victim's families.
"You've got to listen to people like Chrissie Foster, someone I know and respect," he told reporters outside parliament on Tuesday.
"You've got to listen to Jill Meagher's parents. You've got to listen to those who, every day, carry the weight of their loss and the tragedy, and the terrible evil that was wrought on their family."
Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien said the whole ordeal could have been avoided if the government consulted with victims and their families.
"All that pain, all that heartache, all that emotional distress that this government inflicted on victims of crime and their families, that could have all been avoided if the government had just listened in the first place," he said.
Our Watch CEO Patty Kinnersly welcomed the changes to the law.
"There are some families who very much want to share their story publicly and others who do not, the main thing is that all families should have control over how the stories of their loved ones are told," she said in a statement.
She said media organisations also had a responsibility to report on violence against women in a respectful and considerate manner.
The laws will be debated in the lower house on Thursday and then the upper house next sitting week.
If passed, victims will be able to apply for a VPO through the courts in October.
The scheme will be reviewed after two years of operation.
Australian Associated Press