More help for vulnerable witnesses

Vulnerable witnesses will be better supported to have their voices heard in court and by police, under an intermediary scheme announced as part of the 2019-20 ACT Budget.

Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the scheme is one of the recommendations to arise from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and will provide independent communication specialists, or intermediaries, to help witnesses give clear evidence.

“This scheme features impartial and independent intermediaries who will help vulnerable witnesses provide evidence to police and the courts, and enhance the fairness of the justice system,” Minister Ramsay said.

“Giving evidence can be a particularly daunting experience for children, and this scheme will support young witnesses to better articulate their evidence in court proceedings, as well as their responses under cross-examination.

“The ACT Government has committed $5.8 million to establish an intermediary scheme in the ACT and continue fulfilling our commitment to implementing the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.”

The scheme will be administered by the Victims of Crime Commissioner Ms Heidi Yates, who has welcomed the initiative.

“We know trauma often affects victims’ ability to clearly recollect and recount a violent incident. Intermediaries can assist by requesting breaks when witnesses become tired or distressed, and asking for questions to be rephrased to help vulnerable witnesses understand,” Ms Yates said.

“Giving evidence to police and the courts can compound victims’ trauma, particularly where court proceedings may be drawn out. Intermediary schemes in other jurisdictions are working well, and the ACT scheme is expected to improve access to justice for vulnerable community members.”

The funding will establish a phased introduction of an intermediary scheme in the ACT to provide access to an intermediary in certain offence matters. The scheme will initially include child complainants in sexual offence matters and child witnesses in homicide matters.

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