Research Handbook on Law and Religion
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Research Handbook on Law and Religion

Edited by Rex Ahdar

Offering an interdisciplinary, international and philosophical perspective, this comprehensive Research Handbook explores both perennial and recent legal issues that concern the modern state and its interaction with religious communities and individuals.
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Chapter 21: The persistence of religious confession privilege

A Keith Thompson

Abstract

The Ryan Commission in Ireland and the Royal Commission in Australia both addressed strident calls for the abolition of Religious Confession Privilege (RCP) in cases of suspected child sex abuse. But while the Australian Commission supported that recommendation, the Ryan Commission did not. Is this because less clerical abuse was uncovered in Ireland, or did the Irish Commission think such a recommendation futile? This chapter suggests that Jeremy Bentham’s unlikely nineteenth-century defence of RCP was soundly based and explains that the Australian Commission’s abolition recommendation offends the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Child abuse has declined rapidly since the state of Queensland enacted police vetting for all volunteers and employees from 1998, suggesting there are effective alternative measures. This chapter also reviews recent cases in the UK and the US and finds – counter-intuitively in the US – that the courts are preserving RCP despite popular attacks upon it.

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