The lawyer who defended Craig McLachlan in the actor’s high-profile sexual assault case, where he was found not guilty, has been criticised by a magistrate for asking “inappropriate” questions of the female complainants.
On Monday, Melbourne Magistrate Belinda Wallington found McLachlan not guilty of 13 charges, including seven indecent assault charges and six common assault charges.
Magistrate Wallington cleared Mr McLachlan of all charges but also said she found the four complainants “brave and honest witnesses.”
She said she accepted some of the complainants’ evidence but it did not meet the high criminal standards required to prove the charges.
Magistrate Wallington did note that she had to consider the allegations under the consent laws from the time of the allegations, and the result of the case might have been different if current consent laws were applicable.
After delivering the verdict, Magistrate Wallington said she wanted to make a number of comments about the case that were not part of her decision.
She raised concerns about the way Sydney lawyer Stuart Littlemore, questioned the four female complainants.
“On the issue of cross-examination, the court was not assisted in its task by questions put by defence counsel Mr Littlemore QC such as the length of the average female labia majora, or whether a complainant was proud of her figure or other troubling and outdated stereotypes of sexual assault victims,” she said.
“Times have changed.
“It was perturbing that defence appeared unfamiliar with section 41 of the Evidence Act, which prohibits such inappropriate questions.”
Magistrate Wallington also raised concerns about other questions asked of the complainants by the defence.
“I was not assisted by the lines of questioning by defence that called into question the reputations of the complainants, sexual or otherwise, the poses they struck in photographs on social media, or their appearance or what they were wearing.”
Mr Littlemore did not respond to Magistrate Wallington’s comments during the virtual hearing.
The ABC attempted to reach Mr Littlemore by phone and email, but did not receive a response by the time of publishing.
Comments send a message to legal community: Expert
Dr Rachael Burgin is a lecturer in criminal justice at the Swinburne Law School, where she researches legal responses to sexual assaults and law reform.
She praised Magistrate Wallington for her comments.
“It is crucial that we start seeing this type of commentary from judicial officers,” she said.
“It sends a message to the community that this is unacceptable, particularly to the legal community.”