The Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Amendment Bill 2020 (TAS) (the Bill) was introduced into the Tasmanian Parliament on 25 August 2020 by Minister for Justice, the Hon Elise Nicole Archer (the Minister). It reached first reading stage in the Legislative Council on 15 September 2020. The Bill makes amendments to the Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Act 2001 (TAS), the Criminal Code Act 1924 (TAS) and the Legal Aid Commission Act 1990 (TAS) for the purpose of establishing a legislative framework for the use of intermediaries in Tasmanian courts.
According to the Minister's explanatory statement, the Bill delivers on the "Tasmania Government’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse", in particular the recommendation to establish a "Pilot Witness Intermediary Scheme" in Tasmania.
According to the Minister's second reading speech, "witness intermediaries" will be neutral officers of the court who will support prosecution and defence lawyers to ensure that vulnerable witnesses are asked questions that they can understand. Their role is to make sure the vulnerable witnesses have access to the materials they need to express themselves in answering questions, and they will make sure that vulnerable witnesses have the time and space they need to communicate their best evidence.
Witness intermediaries are already being used successfully in the United Kingdom and New Zealand. In recent years in Australia, schemes have been introduced in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.
The Bill amends the Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Act 2001 to:
The Bill amends the Criminal Code Act 1924 by extending the definition of "affected person" to include "a prescribed witness" within the meaning of the Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Act 2001.
The Bill makes a consequential amendment to the Legal Aid Commission Act 1990 to clarify the operation of section 8A of the Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Act 2001 with respect to legal aid funding.
In the second reading speech the Minister indicated that the Bill fulfills the Tasmanian Government’s commitment to establish a Pilot Intermediary Scheme in response to the recommendations of the "Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in its Criminal Justice Report"; and the work of the Tasmania Law Reform Institute (TLRI) in its 2018 report, Facilitating Equal Access to Justice: An Intermediary/Communication Scheme for Tasmania.
According to the Minister's second reading speech, the Tasmania’s Pilot Intermediary Scheme is intended to commence in March 2021, coinciding with the commencement of the legal year. It will operate for three years before undergoing a thorough evaluation to ensure its effective operation and a review of its scope.
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Evidence (Children and Special Witnesses) Amendment Bill 2020 (31 of 2020) (Tas), second reading speech and explanatory statement available from TimeBase's LawOne service
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