Canberra’s vulnerable witnesses heard during first year of ACT Intermediary Program

Australian Greens

Over 150 vulnerable witnesses have provided their best evidence to the justice system with the help of the ACT’s Intermediary Program, which marks one year of operation today.

In its first year, the ACT Intermediary Program directly assisted over 150 child and adult witnesses to provide clear evidence to police, lawyers and in court, disclosing crimes such as child sexual abuse, homicide and family violence.

The Intermediary Program, which was recommended by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, has assisted people ranging in age from 4 – 92 to give evidence, providing services at police stations, courts, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and residences.

“This is a considerable accomplishment for the ACT. We know that in the past, these people may not have been able to tell police what happened, or present clear evidence in court,” Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said.

“An intermediary can truly transform a criminal justice process. Their presence can make the difference between a case that doesn’t proceed and one that results in conviction, or traumatised witness and one that feels heard.

“The intermediary program is helping to ensure that some of our most vulnerable have equal access to justice, and that the trauma of being interviewed, or being in court can be minimised.”

Run by the Human Rights Commission, the Intermediary Program includes two full-time intermediaries who help child witnesses and adult witnesses with language delays, mental health issues, learning disabilities and other communication difficulties to provide clear evidence.

Victims of Crime Commissioner at the ACT Human Rights Commission, Heidi Yates, said the ACT has taken lessons from other jurisdictions that have successfully introduced intermediaries.

“We are enormously proud of the service the intermediary program has provided in its first year, working 24/7 to meet every single request for assistance from police, lawyers and courts,” Ms Yates said.

“With their training in speech pathology, social work, psychology and child protection, our intermediaries have helped witnesses to navigate a range of intellectual and physical communication barriers so their voices can be heard.

“Unfortunately, we know that predators consistently target the very young or the vulnerable, believing that they won’t be able to report what has happened. With the help of a witness intermediary, even a very young child, or those with language and cognitive delays, can now explain what has happened to them, or what they witnessed.”

ACT Chief Police Officer Neil Gaughan said the service was a great help in the investigation process.

“The intermediary program has assisted many ACT Policing investigators receive the best possible information and statements from victims and witnesses,” said CPO Gaughan.

“Their 24/7 availability has ensured we can access the service when required, supporting the efficient investigation of what are often difficult matters.”

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