Former Sydney schoolteacher Helga Lam has indecent assault indictment quashed

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A former schoolteacher who had been accused of abusing four male students has had her indictment quashed after a court ruled the charges applied only to crimes committed by men.

Former Maroubra Bay High School teacher Helga Lam was charged in 2021 with 15 counts of indecent assault upon male persons which were alleged to have occurred in 1978. Ms Lam had previously pleaded not guilty to the charges.

The court was told the alleged victims were aged between 13 and 16 and were subjected to a range of sex acts which one complainant said led him to be “fearful and upset”.

In a shock twist, the Court of Appeal on Monday ruled Ms Lam’s indictment should be quashed after finding the historical offences applied only to acts by males, on males.

Court of Appeal’s Justice Anthony Meagher found Ms Lam had been charged under the since-repealed Section 81 of the Crimes Act, which denoted only “homosexual crimes”.

“It is important to record … s81 of the Crimes Act 1900 … does not apply and has never applied to conduct committed by a female upon a male,” he said.

“The only sexual conduct capable of constituting an assault upon a male … regarded as ‘indecent’ at the time s81 was enacted was male homosexual conduct.

“That the ‘indecent conduct’ to which s81 was directed extended only to sexual conduct between males was wholly consistent with the immediate context of that section.”

The court was told Section 81, which was repealed in 1984 when homosexuality was decriminalised in NSW, was introduced in 1900 and based on 1861 English legislation.

At the time of the alleged offending, Sections 79-81 of the Act included “indecent assault on male”.

The court was told the Crown had earlier submitted that whether the conduct was “indecent” was to be assessed by the community at the trial of the trial, and not earlier.

Justices Richard Weinstein and Peter Garling agreed with the ruling, with the latter stating he believed there were indicators in the Section pointing to only male offenders.

Justice Meaghar told the court the complainants reported having sexual activity with Ms Lam, including allegedly having penile-vaginal intercourse with her.

“As well as masturbating them, performing fellatio on them, and instructing them to digitally penetrate her and to perform cunnilingus on her,” he said.

“Three of the complainants were willing participants in the conduct.

“The fourth, who at the time of the alleged offences had just turned 13 years old, says that he was fearful and upset when the applicant performed sexual acts upon him.”

Ms Lam has been on bail since her arrest in late-2021. An application for a permanent stay on proceedings was previously quashed by Justice Jennie Girdham.

She will reappear before the Downing Centre District Court on March 15.

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