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Law body wary about legislative moves against religious confession

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Expert response: “Removing the privilege associated with religious confession will set a dangerous precedent which may be relied on, in the future, to remove or restrict legal professional privilege.”

QUEENSLAND Law Society President Luke Murphy warned proposed legislation to scrap the seal of confession could pave the way for the removal of other confidential privileges like lawyer-client privilege.

Mr Murphy, who wrote the Queensland Law Society submission to the State Parliament, outlined six flaws in removing the seal.

“Removing the privilege associated with religious confession will set a dangerous precedent which may be relied on, in the future, to remove or restrict legal professional privilege,” he said.

“Once reforms of this nature are accepted with respect to the religious confession privilege, then at a later date, this might be seen as justification to restrict or remove another previously unassailable privilege such as client legal privilege, which is a cornerstone legal principle.”

He said the proposed legislation was inconsistent with the Human Rights Act: it contravened a person’s freedom to demonstrate their religion; and it coerced or restrained a person in a way that limited their freedom to have or adopt a religion.

He said it also raised questions of “hearsay evidence”, as members of the clergy could only “repeat information delivered to them”.

“Creating an offence of failing to report child abuse confessed to a priest during confession will not make a positive contribution to stopping child abuse but will only make confessions of child abuse more unlikely,” Mr Murphy said.

Discrimination was raised too.

Mr Murphy said the proposed legislation only applied to members of the clergy and that “discriminatory application must be justified as effectively achieving the over-riding policy objective of protecting vulnerable children”. 

He said the justification for that discrimination was “difficult to see”. The proposed legislation could set precedents for further restrictions of religious practice.

He said this was a “concerning step to take as our community values the freedom of religion”.

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