New legislation offers
protection of witnesses

The Legislative Assembly has passed a law that will allow some witnesses to give evidence via live television link in court and offer extra protection for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses.

The Evidence (Amendment) Bill 2010 enables child witnesses and witnesses giving evidence about violent or sexual offences, as well as those who are outside the Islands, to give evidence by television link.

According to the legislation, the court must give leave before evidence can be given in this manner.

Witnesses under the age of 17, those who suffer from mental disorders or with impaired intelligence or social functioning, and those with physical disabilities will be considered eligible for assistance under the amended law.

According to the law, a witness in criminal court proceedings can receive assistance “if the court is satisfied that the quality of evidence given by the witness is likely to be diminished by reason of fear or distress on the part of the witness”. Only witnesses, and not defendants, can receive this assistance. The court will take into account the age of the witness, the nature of the criminal allegation, and the behaviour shown toward the witness by the accused person or their friends and family members when determining if assistance will be given to witnesses.

The court is also allowed to consider “the social and cultural background and ethnic origin of the witness” and “the religious beliefs or political opinions of the witness”.

As well as allowing vulnerable witnesses to give evidence via television link, the court can also use a screen or other arrangement to block a witness from the view of the accused, but not from the view of the judge, jury, lawyers and interpreters.

Another way to protect witnesses from potential intimidation would be for an interview to be prerecorded and shown to the court as “evidence in chief” of the witness.

The prerecorded interviews may be disallowed if it prevents the witness from being cross-examined or if both sides cannot agree on terms for the prerecorded interview, according to the amended law.

Legislators unanimously voted to pass the law on Thursday, 9 December.

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