Melbourne sisters win gag order fight
A magistrate has lifted gag orders to allow the alleged sexual abuse victims of fugitive Melbourne school principal Malka Leifer to publicly share their story.
Sisters Nicole Meyer, Dassi Erlich and Elly Sapper are the first to be granted permission by the courts to identify themselves since new Victorian laws were quietly introduced in February to silence sexual abuse victims.
Their applications were rushed through the Melbourne Magistrates' Court after the Herald Sun last week revealed the new gag laws and launched the #LetUsSpeak campaign which called on the state government to repeal the laws.
Magistrate Metcalf on Wednesday lifted the orders for the sisters after their barrister Adrian Strauch argued sexual abuse victims should not have their voices taken away.
"In Victoria, a victim of any offence is allowed by choice to stand up, to identify themselves and be heard apart for one class of offences," he told the Melbourne Magistrates' Court.
"Had my client been the victim or alleged victim of any other offence on the statute book whether it be the victim of a drunk driver, whether assaulted or robbed or any other offence, there would be no impediment upon them identifying themselves as the alleged victim.
"It goes without saying that the legislation is required to protect the identity of all victims of sexual offences of being involuntarily identified by third parties. That is crucial and a fundamental safeguard of the law.
"However when it comes to a person's choice, in my submission, it is overreaching if the law is to disallow the victim of their personal choice to identify themselves."
HUGE shout out to these 3 amazing survivors! It's outrageous that u had to fight to be exempted from these gag-laws which MUST be reformed.— Nina Funnell (@ninafunnell) September 2, 2020
+ BIG shout out to Mazzeo Lawyers & Adrian Strauch who did all the pro-bono work here & who r committed 2 helping survivors. #LetUsSpeak https://t.co/otEdxPMB7u
Ms Erlich said she was "hugely relieved" by the court ruling and that it set a powerful precedent for other sexual abuse survivors.
"Our choice to speak has been restored!," she wrote on Twitter.
"Judge Metcalf heard us. We have our voice back!
"An instrumental decision that will set a precedent & hopefully pave the way for other survivors to own & share their story
"There should not be any burden on a survivor other than their choice."
The ruling comes just weeks before an Israeli court is due to decide whether to extradite Leifer to Australia to face court.
The former principal at Melbourne's Adass Israel School in Elsternwick is accused of 74 sexual abuse charges in relation to three alleged victims. Her extradition will be decided on September 21, more than a decade after she fled to Israel
.#LetUsSpeak campaign creator Nina Funnell welcomed the court's decision but cautioned less high-profile cases may not get the same fast-tracked treatment by the courts.
"We are delighted for these survivor advocates who are paving the way. But we remain disappointed that they have had to deal with this ordeal to begin with. We hope the Government extends support to victims in all matters," Ms Funnell said.
The sisters' applications were rushed into the courts after personal phone calls over the legal debacle were made by Premier Daniel Andrews and Attorney-General Jill Hennessy. Ms Funnell said Maggie*, who spearheaded the #LetUsSpeak campaign, began the process of filing the same application in April and is yet to get an outcome.
"Maggie's lawyers have been writing to the courts since April and the process has been unwieldy, protracted and traumatising," Ms Funnell said.
"She has had no support from the government and it is clear there is one rule for some and another rule for others."
Maggie was raped by her abuser from age eight and was advised by the County Court she needed to get his views before applying for the gag exemption.
The court later forwarded her application to him in a significant privacy breach.
Under the current laws a sexual abuse victim who uses their real name to speak about an sexual offender found guilty could face jail or significant fines.
The laws apply to historical cases and those already in the public domain. The only exception is to apply for a court order to lift the gag.
Ms Hennessy last week announced an urgent reform into the laws to allow most survivors to speak out without needing a court order.
She ensured the "rights and needs of victim-survivors remain at the heart of these reforms" and that survivors would form part of "roundtable" discussions from this month.
*For 24-hour sexual violence support call the national hotline 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or MensLine on 1800 600 636.
Originally published as Melbourne sisters win gag order fight