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Crown Solicitor's Office

State of NSW v Williamson [2014] NSWSC 939: the importance of protective legislation

Gillian Buchan, CSO Solicitor, Criminal Law

Between August 1989 and May 1990, Mr Williamson ("the defendant") committed 19 offences of a sexual and related nature against 11 victims in the Illawarra region of NSW. The defendant's offending was premeditated and violent in that he stalked victims and either abducted them from the street or broke into their homes before sexually assaulting them at knife point. Aged 20 at the time, the defendant became known as "the Bulli rapist". In 1991, he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of almost 24 years.

The defendant was due to be released from parole in May 2014, however, he will now be subject to an extended supervision order ("ESO") until July 2019, following a successful application brought by the State of New South Wales ("the plaintiff") under the Crimes (High Risk Offenders) Act 2006 ("the HRO Act").

Under the terms of the ESO, the defendant will live in the community supervised by Corrective Services NSW. He will be subject to strict conditions of surveillance and monitoring, similar to the conditions that attached to his parole.

To make an order of this kind, his Honour Johnson J first needed to be satisfied "to a high degree of probability that [the defendant] poses an unacceptable risk of committing a serious sex offence" if not kept under supervision. His Honour then needed to consider a range of factors before making the ESO, such as the defendant's patterns of offending, compliance with supervision and use of anti-libidinal medication.

An important aspect of the HRO Act to which his Honour had regard was s. 21A, a provision which allows for victim statements to be tendered to the Court. In this case, five victim statements were tendered by the plaintiff and his Honour observed that they demonstrated the "long-term adverse consequences" of the harm done to the defendant's victims, who "still bear grave and permanent psychological scars".

In reaching his final determination, his Honour provided some valuable commentary on the purpose of the HRO Act and protective legislation of its kind, explaining that its primary object, rather than being punitive, is to ensure the safety of the community and to encourage rehabilitation in offenders.

Safeguarding the community is the rationale behind proposed changes to the HRO Act introduced into State Parliament in September this year. If passed, the new laws will include provisions enabling the State to apply for "emergency detention orders" when, because of altered circumstances, an offender cannot be adequately supervised and poses an imminent risk of committing a serious offence.