In a bid to align with the evolving landscape of consent laws globally, Queensland is on the verge of adopting a new affirmative consent model. However, the Queensland Law Society (QLS) has raised thought-provoking concerns about the potential ramifications of this move, particularly when it comes to spontaneous martial sex within long-term relationships. The debate brings to light the delicate balance between ensuring justice for victims of sexual assault and safeguarding the intimacy shared between consenting partners.

The Queensland Law Society’s Warning:

The Queensland Law Society has sounded a cautionary note, expressing reservations about the unintended consequences of the proposed consent laws. According to their submission to the parliamentary committee, the legislation could inadvertently criminalise spontaneous sexual activity between long-term partners who have developed a deep understanding of each other’s non-verbal cues over the course of their relationship. The concern is that requiring explicit communication of consent in such cases might be an inappropriate extension of criminal law.

Misalignment with Existing Precedents:

The QLS highlights the potential discord between the proposed laws and existing legal precedents in Queensland. Citing the case of R v Shaw (1996), they argue that Queensland law already recognises that silence or lack of resistance does not equate to consent. The fear is that the new legislation, by not taking these nuances into account, could create confusion, and more significantly, contribute to miscarriages of justice.

Divorce Proceedings as a Potential Minefield:

One of the most compelling arguments present by the QLS is the potential weaponization of the proposed laws in the context of divorce proceedings. The scenario painted involves a long-term married couple who, years after their separation, find themselves entangled in a bitter divorce. If one party alleges that past spontaneous sexual encounters was non-consensual, the other part may find it challenging to defend themselves, given the lack of clarity regarding the proposed consent laws for those in long-term relationships.

National Context:

Queensland’s proposed reforms stand in contrast to recent changes in other Australian states like NSW, the ACT, Tasmania, and Victoria, where affirmative consent models have been embraced in the wake of the “MeToo movement”. Additionally, the Federal Government’s recent release of a national framework advocating for affirmative and communicated consent further emphasizes the need for a consistent approach.

As Queensland stands at the crossroads of reforming its consent laws, the delicate balance between protecting victims of sexual assault and preserving the dynamics of long-term relationships comes sharply into focus. The concerns raised by the Queensland Law Society prompt us to consider whether the pursuit of justice could inadvertently infringe upon the personal and intimate realms of consenting couples. Striking the right balance will require careful consideration of existing legal precedents, potential misuse of the laws in divorce proceedings and the broader national context of evolving consent norms.

Our team specialises in criminal law. Our role is to sit down with you and work out the strategy that will get you the best possible result. If you have any questions about this article or any other topic of law, please call our team of experts on 1300 066 669.