Frightened witnesses to testify on screen

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 October, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 12 October, 1995, 12:00am

WITNESSES frightened of giving evidence are to be spared the ordeal of appearing in court and will be able to tell their story on closed-circuit television, the policy commitments revealed.

The move follows public concern over criminal cases which have collapsed because prosecution witnesses failed to give proper evidence.

Once the new system is introduced it will be possible for scared witnesses to give their accounts on camera in a specially adapted room. Pictures of them will be beamed to screens set up in court.

It is hoped the less intimidating environment will put such witnesses at ease and make them more likely to go through with giving their evidence.

The scheme means that witnesses worried about possible consequences of testifying will not have to face the defendant across the court.

It is part of a move to protect vulnerable witnesses such as children and victims of sex cases who will also be able to use the closed-circuit television system.

But it is unlikely this means of giving evidence will be open to everyone.

Legislation has recently been introduced to pave the way for vulnerable witnesses to use the television system. But further laws will have to be passed before adults who feel they need protection can make use of it.

Even then it is likely that an application would have to be made to the judge to persuade him of the necessity.

The police welcomed the initiative. A spokesman said: 'We are sure the programme will help the witness protection scheme.' Modernisation of the legal system is the main thrust of new moves set out in the policy commitments.

The aim is to make the courts more user-friendly and efficient while introducing increased use of the Chinese language.

A pilot scheme to test the feasibility of using simultaneous translation equipment will start soon.

Judiciary Administrator Alice Tai Yuen-ying said 10 court interpreters had volunteered for special training on the project.

The judiciary has ruled out the use of such technology for the giving of evidence.

But it is believed the system could be used in the court of appeal or for the simultaneous translation of lawyers' submissions.

If the system is introduced in the Supreme Court and District Court it is expected to cost an initial $130 million and a further $8 million each year.