More people acquitted of child sex abuse

The chances of offenders being acquitted of child sexual offences have risen despite many more victims coming forward, the head of the child abuse royal commission says.

Justice Peter McClellan has dismissed the notion that the four-year inquiry has made it more difficult for people to be found not guilty of child sex offences.

He noted comment in the legal profession that the commission's work has had such a transformative effect on the mind of the general community that it has become much more difficult - "perhaps, it has been suggested, dangerously difficult" - to secure an acquittal.

NSW data on conviction rates clearly suggests otherwise, he said in the keynote speech for the Australian Lawyers Alliance NSW annual state conference.

"It appears that, although many more complainants are coming forward, the chances of an offender being acquitted have risen rather than fallen," he said on Friday.

The data showed defendants were acquitted of all offences in 54 per cent of child sexual assault matters in 2015-2016 compared with 44 per cent in 2012-2013, despite the number of cases finalised at a defended hearing or trial almost doubling.

The royal commission wants changes to how the criminal justice system deals with sexual offence allegations against an individual involving more than one child.

Justice McClellan said the commissioners believed the law should change to facilitate greater admissibility of tendency and coincidence evidence in child sexual abuse cases.

"It is difficult for the commissioners to support a situation in which the rules in relation to evidence of such significance are different for a survivor involved in criminal proceedings in one state than for a survivor in another," he said.

Justice McClellan said the requirement for the prosecution to provide particulars of offences was a further difficulty for child abuse survivors, who may not be able to describe specific occasions if they were abused multiple times.

"The result ... is a cruel paradox: the greater the regularity with which a child is offended against, the more difficult it can become to charge and prosecute the offender."

The commission's recommendations on criminal justice reforms will be handed to the federal government in August.

© AAP 2017

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