Changes in child witness system

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 October, 1993, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 October, 1993, 12:00am

CHILDREN who are the victims in sex cases may in future be spared the trauma of giving evidence in court.

Attorney-General Jeremy Mathews recently set up a committee to consider whether special arrangements should be made for children when giving evidence in court, following radical changes to the system in England.

The committee is expected to put forward proposals for changes in six months. Representatives of the police, legal profession, judiciary and Legal Aid are on the committee, which had its first meeting last week.

Children are usually called to give evidence in indecent assault, rape or incest cases in which they have been the victim. It is distressing enough to recall the events, and can be more daunting because of the trappings of a court room, with judge and lawyers wigged and robed, and in the High Court, a jury.

In England, child witnesses in all types of cases can now be questioned in a different room, linked through a video with the court room. Their evidence in chief is recorded in advance and then they can be questioned by lawyers through the video link.

The committee will also consider whether the present position whereby the evidence of children under 14 should be corroborated, ought to be brought into line with England, where this is no longer necessary.

This may mean more prosecutions in cases where the child is the main or only witness.

The new committee looking into ways to help mentally handicapped people testify is likely to consider many of the same methods now used in England for child witnesses, when it meets.