The Historical Offence of Carnal Knowledge in New South Wales

Information on this page was reviewed by a specialist defence lawyer before being published. Click to read more.

Former rugby player Chris Dawson who is currently facing a judge alone trial for the murder of his ex-wife Lynette Dawson, has had his trial for carnal knowledge delayed by a further nine months. 

Mr Dawson was charged in 2019 with the murder of his ex-wife, who disappeared in 1982 without a trace. 

Given the high profile nature of the case, which has intrigued Australians for 40 years, been the subject of several books, two coronial inquests (that concluded that Lynette was murdered) and a highly successful podcast which was taken down in 2018 when police re-opened the case, Mr Dawson was granted a trial behind closed doors without a jury to determine his fate. 

Supreme Court Justice Ian Harrison will determine whether Mr Dawson is guilty or innocent of murder. Mr Dawson has always maintained his innocence. 

All evidence has been presented, and Justice Harrison has retired to consider a verdict, which is expected to be delivered in September. 

Shortly after being charged with murder in 2019, Mr Dawson was also charged with a single count of carnal knowledge by a teacher of a girl between the ages of 10 and 17.

The trial for carnal knowledge was due to proceed before the court next month, however Mr Dawson’s lawyers successfully argued that it needed to be delayed because the publicity around the murder trial needs time to die down, and because Justice Ian Harrison has yet to deliver a verdict on the charge of murder.   

The historical offence of carnal knowledge in New South Wales

Until 1986, the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) contained the offence of ‘carnal knowledge’, which carried a maximum penalty of eight years’ imprisonment.

The offence was contained in section 73 of the Act and made it a crime for: 

“Whosoever, being a schoolmaster or other teacher, or a father, or step-father, unlawfully and carnally knows any girl of or above the age of 16 years, and under the age of 17 years, being his pupil, or daughter, or step-daughter”.

The offence continues to apply to offences committed until that time.

Carnal knowledge is an exceptionally old-fashioned term, but it basically means to have sexual intercourse. 

New offence

Now, section 73 of the Crimes Act contains the crime of sexual Intercourse with a young person under special care which carries a maximum penalty of 4 years in prison where the young person was at least 17 but less than 18 years of age, or 8 years in prison where the young person was at least 16 but less than 17 years of age.

To establish the offence, the prosecution must prove beyond reasonable doubt that:

  1. You had sexual intercourse with a young person,
  2. You knew, or were reckless as to whether, he or she was a young person, and
  3. The young person was under your ‘special care’.

‘Sexual intercourse’ is defined as:

  1. The penetration to any extent of a female’s genitalia, or the anus of any person, by any part of, or object used by, another person, 
  2. The introduction of a penis into the mouth of another person, 
  3. Cunnilingus, or
  4. The continuation of any of these activities.

A ‘young person’ is someone aged at least 16 but less than 18 years.

The young person was under your ‘special care’ if:

  1. You were his or her step-parent, guardian, authorised carer, or the de facto partner of his or her parent, guardian or authorised carer,
  2. You were a member of the teaching staff at his or her school,
  3. You established a personal relationship with him or her in connection with the provision of religious, sporting, musical or other instruction,
  4. You were a custodial officer at an institution where he or she was an inmate, orChris Dawson has pleaded not guilty to the charge. However, it is alleged that Mr Dawson began a sexual relationship with a young woman known only as JC when she was his student. According to evidence presented in previous coronial inquests into Lynette Dawson’s disappearance, 

JC moved into the Dawson family home in Bayswater on the Northern Beaches around the time of Lynette’s disappearance. 

JC and Chris Dawson married in 1984 and divorced in 1990 and do have a child together, however she has told the court that Mr Dawson “Groomed me, and abused me and insisted that I marry him.” She also told the court she felt like a “sex slave.” 

The mystery surrounding Lynette’s disappearance has often focused on the fact that she and Chris were having marital problems and that he was in a serious secually intimate relationship with JC at the same time. 

The trial which is now set down for May next year, will focus on when Chris Dawson first had sex with the student, how old she was, and whether or not he was her teacher at the time. 

Receive all of our articles weekly


Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

Your Opinion Matters