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Print this pageNEW ZEALAND: Reforms target child witness tactics





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News release


The new measures seek to reduce trauma suffered by children testifying in court.

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[5 October 2011] - Cabinet has approved a package of reforms to improve the treatment of child witnesses, in the face of compelling evidence that many are being re-traumatised by the current system.

Research by AUT University, released last year, revealed that child witnesses often did not understand common court terminology such as "allegation", and that lengthy waits of 15-20 months before the trial could affect children's memory and create stress.

"It disturbs me that AUT's research found that 30 per cent of children wept while testifying, more than 70 per cent of them did not understand a question posed by a defence lawyer, and that 65 per cent were accused by the defence of lying," Justice Minister Simon Power said.

"We simply must do better to ensure that the estimated 750 children who give evidence in criminal courts each year - the majority of them complainants in sexual offending cases - are not re-brutalised by their participation in the process."

Announcing the inquisitorial-style package of reforms, Power said they had been influenced by the AUT report, as well as visits to Germany and Austria last year to investigate inquisitorial systems of justice.

Inquisitorial legal systems involve the court actively investigating the facts of the case.

Child witnesses will be questioned by specialist intermediaries trained in cognitive development of children, to improve questioning of those under 18 in court. 

Lawyers and judges will also have available to them guidance on how best to examine child witnesses. 

"It's the Government's expectation that the new processes will resemble an inquisitorial system by requiring the judiciary to play a more active role in determining whether questions to be put to child witnesses are appropriate," says Power.

Child witnesses will also not have to testify in court as frequently, with the new measures introducing a "legislative presumption" that all children under the age of 12 give their evidence either by video record or CCTV.

Pre-recording of children's evidence will also have to occur within a specified timeframe, with the aim of reducing waiting time to less than six months.

The AUT report noted the impact of the lengthy waits on children, with co-author Dr Kirsten Hanna saying, "[o]n average, children waited 15 months for their cases to come to trial. When you add the police investigation and sentencing, the wait stretches out to 20 months. That's a long time in the life of a child, in some cases nearly a quarter of their life."

The period awaiting trial can be stressful for children and their supporters Hanna said, and long delays can impact on memory. 

Powers says that current measures for children are not sufficient.

"Despite the courts already having special provisions and processes in place for dealing with child witnesses, I remain concerned that delays of up to 15 months and inappropriate questioning of children are reducing the court's ability to elicit reliable and accurate evidence.

"Waiting 15 months to give evidence is a long time in anyone's life, let alone that of a child."


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Last updated 07/10/2011 03:52:05

Please note that these reports are hosted by CRIN as a resource for Child Rights campaigners, researchers and other interested parties. Unless otherwise stated, they are not the work of CRIN and their inclusion in our database does not necessarily signify endorsement or agreement with their content by CRIN.

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