A day in the life of the sex court Held every Friday, the sex court is tucked away on the fourth floor, well above the daily hustle of the ordinary criminal cases heard here.
It's not called sex court, of course (except by many who work within it). Its official name is the Sexual Offences List. Every Friday, and one Wednesday a month, the courtroom is set aside to hear cases involving one or more sexual offences. There are rapists, up skirters, gropers, child pornographers and online harassers. Sometimes there are women. When magistrate Johanna Metcalf walked into court 12 last Friday at 10am, it was standing room only. And they came from all walks of life. The youngest was ray ban by 18, but looked 12; the oldest looked to be in his 80s. One of the first to come before the court is a prisoner, flanked by two guards as he walks into the dock. This man, who we cannot name for legal reasons, was charged by police three days earlier and hasbeen in custody since. By the look of him, he has been wearing the same clothes since his arrest. He has a small flesh wound on the top of his forehead, and looks grubby and on edge. The court is told the man has not been getting his epilepsy and other medication while he's been in custody. Thenthe prosecutor says something that sends chills down the spine: "The complainant [alleged victim] in this matter is a child, and she has an intellectual disability, so it may be hard to get instructions." Metcalf grants the man's family an intervention order against him, and sternly tells him he is not to make any contact with them. He is led out in handcuffs and, disconcertingly, the sound ray ban rb4057 of a baby's cry cuts through the packed courtroom. In the front row are a man and a woman, whose baby is in a pram. The child babbles and waves its chubby arms and legs. The couple's delight in their child is clear: seemingly oblivious to the grimy details being aired by police prosecutors, they coo and cluck at him. But the baby's babbling creates a weird energy in the room. It feels ray ban models wrong to have such innocence amid these awful sex cases. Everyone tries not to look at the baby. In December, the sex court will celebrate its 10th year. It was first introduced at the Melbourne Magistrates Court as a pilot programto cope with the high number of sexual offences coming before the courts, and the complex needs of victims of sexual offences. Soon, sexual offences lists were introduced at regional courts across the state. A separate sexual offences list is also held at the Children's Courtfor juvenile offenders. Magistrate Belinda Wallington, who presides over the list, says it is less a sex court than a case management list. Seven magistrates preside over the list, taking turns each week. Magistrates read the brief of evidence for every case, before defendants appear in court, and their preparation means cases move more quickly than in other courts. There are time limits on each stage of a case, so victims are not further traumatised by long delays. "Because of the shame attached to sex offending and the possible consequences of a finding of guilt imprisonment or sex offender registration there is a great deal of denial and avoidance," Wallington says. "Without close case management, this results in adjournments and delays and prolonged distress to complainants." There are other protections for victims, too. People charged with sexual offences cannot cross examine their alleged victims. Children and people with cognitive or intellectual disabilities have their evidence recorded, to try to ensure they only have to give evidence once. There are strict limits on the questions that can be asked of complainants, including a ban on any questions about their sexual history. Sergeant Kirei Wall, who leads the specialist prosecutions team for Victoria Police, says prosecutors also approach their task differently in courtroom 12. Sgt Wall knows the public has high expectations of the court and police. Photo: Daniel Pockett "All parties in the court are dedicated to case management, I think is the best way to describe it," she says. "A lot of these matters are heavily contested, because a conviction really the consequences can affect their future employment; people can be put on the sex offenders register." Although sexual offences can be notoriously hard ray ban 3044 to prosecute, Wall says her team tries to make every victim feel as supported and protected as possible. "The public has a really high expectation that the courts and police are taking it really seriously." Another striking feature of the court is its gender imbalance. Most of the positions of power in the court, on this day at least, are occupied by women the magistrate,Metcalf, her clerk, two police prosecutors, an Office of Public Prosecutions prosecutor, and many of the defence lawyers. Apart from one exception, all the defendants are men. Soon, the videolink screen lights upto reveal Damen Stephens, a man in his late 40s or 50s, who is sitting at a desk in a prison somewhere in Victoria. His lawyer hasn't turned up to court, and Stephens a well spoken man wearing spectacles and an irritated air is not happy. He complains that he has been trying to get his lawyer's number listed on his list of approved phone numbers, but "there've been significant difficulties with the prison administration". Stephens has been charged with stalking offences.
"The charges aren't very serious", he tells themagistrate. Basically, he says, he was "sending nasty messages" over the internet. He wants to apply for bail.
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