Past offences

Mutiny, treachery and treason, harbouring spies, taking unlawful soundings and assisting prisoners of war to escape were just some of the arcane offences that still existed in Australia in 1995.

But that spring, cabinet decided to modify provisions of the Crimes Act 1914 and transfer them to the Criminal Code.

The modernisation changes were recommended in 1991 by the Committee to Review Commonwealth Criminal Law in a section of its report dealing with security and defence.

However, the Minister for Justice, Duncan Kerr, was reluctant to change the provisions relating to the killing of the sovereign.

"In the circumstances of the current debate on a republic there are sensitivities in taking any action which may lead to the perception of a reduction in the real protection and status afforded the sovereign while in Australia," he told cabinet in September 1995.

"In particular this could be viewed by pro-monarchy groups as a means of advancing republicanism by stealth."

This story Past offences first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.