Law passes to help vulnerable witnesses in court

  • Amy Adams
Justice Courts

The Evidence Amendment Bill will reduce unnecessary trauma and better protect victims who become involved in the court process through no fault of their own, Justice and Courts Minister Amy Adams says.

“Giving evidence can be especially tough for young and vulnerable witnesses. The changes we’re making through this Bill will help to make the court process less traumatic for those it may affect the most,” says Ms Adams.

“The changes in this Bill are a major step in delivering on the Government’s commitment to improve the experience of child witnesses and victims of sexual violence in the courtroom.”

The Bill includes three core changes:

  1. improving the court process for child witnesses
  2. enhancing court process for complainants in sexual offence cases
  3. introducing safeguards for video record evidence.

The Bill creates a presumption that child witnesses give evidence through the video of their police interview, via closed-circuit television or from behind a screen. All child witnesses will be automatically entitled to have a support person with them during this process.

In 2015/16, around 450 child witnesses gave evidence in criminal court cases

Changes will be made to reduce the risk of re-traumatisation for victims of sexual violence who give evidence. The judge’s permission will need to be sought before the trial begins, if the defence wants to question the complainant about their sexual history with a person other than the defendant. 

The Government is also introducing safeguards for video record evidence of vulnerable witnesses, including new restrictions to ensure they do not end up in the wrong hands. The Bill introduces offences and penalties for improper dealing with video record evidence – ranging from a $2000 fine to six months’ imprisonment.

Provisions in the Bill respond to the Law Commission’s recommendations in its 2013 review of the Evidence Act.

“Minimising the trauma that can result from helping to bring offenders to justice is an essential part of the Government’s commitment to supporting victims of crime,” says Ms Adams.

“These changes will ensure the rules of evidence are clear, up-to-date and working as intended. This is vital to a well-functioning and fair justice system.”

The Evidence Amendment Bill passed its third and final reading in Parliament today and will come into force no later than 1 July 2017.