The Tasmanian Government is committed to making the criminal justice process easier for those who have been affected by crime.
Today, the House of Assembly has passed the Evidence (Children & Special Witnesses) Amendment Bill in Parliament that fulfils our commitment to implement the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse’s recommendation to establish a Pilot Witness Intermediary Scheme (the Pilot Scheme) in Tasmania.
This Bill makes changes to the Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Act 2001, the Criminal Code Act 1924 and the Legal Aid Commission Act 1990 to establish the Pilot Scheme.
The Royal Commission identified that some children and vulnerable adults in the criminal justice process have communication needs that can impede their interactions with police, lawyers and the courts. These needs can be due to age or linguistic development, language or cognitive impediments, physical or mental trauma, social development and learning difficulties, or behavioural problems.
An intermediary is a neutral officer of the court and a skilled communications specialist who can assist vulnerable victims and witnesses to give evidence. They are not a lawyer and do not provide legal advice. Rather, their role is to assess the communication needs of the victim or witness and describe those needs to relevant parties to the proceedings (police, legal practitioners and judicial officers) before recommending strategies to facilitate better communication between the parties.
The Pilot Scheme will specifically apply to:
- all children under the age of 18 years participating in the criminal justice process as victims or witnesses (other than a defendant) in sexual offence matters and/or homicide and similar crimes; and
- adults with communication needs (excluding adults where that need is only related to linguistic diversity) participating in the criminal justice process as victims or witnesses (other than a defendant) in sexual offence matters and/or homicide and similar crimes.
As Attorney-General, I am pleased this further significant reform has progressed for victims and survivors, and I would like to thank all stakeholders who have provided valuable feedback throughout the extensive consultation and development process. The Government will of course continue to work closely with all stakeholders throughout the course of the Pilot Scheme.
If passed by the Legislative Council, the Pilot Scheme will be implemented from March 2021.