The criminal justice system can be daunting for victims of sexual assault and family violence.
Disclosing and reporting these crimes can be challenging given their personal and intimate nature. Going to court and giving evidence in the court room can be particularly difficult for victims of sexual assault and family violence. The same applies to children and victims/witnesses with a cognitive impairment.
Victims sometimes find the process of giving evidence distressing and intimidating. Reasons for this include:
the formality of the court environment
having to relate personal and intimate details in court, in the presence of the accused
being cross-examined about intimate and personal details
the strict rules around giving evidence.
Special arrangements for giving evidence
There are special arrangements in place for victims of sexual assault and family violence who are required to give evidence. These arrangements apply to adult victims, child victims and victims with a cognitive impairment.
Special arrangements for adult victims giving evidence include:
giving evidence from another location by closed-circuit television (CCTV)
using screens in the courtroom to ensure that the accused person is not visible
allowing a support person to be present when giving evidence
closing the courtroom to the general public.
In sexual assault matters, the legislation states that the judge must allow for any or all of these arrangements to be made.
In family violence matters, the barrister engaged by the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP) can ask the judge for any or all of these arrangements to be made. The judge will decide which arrangements will be made available in each individual case.
Child victims and victims with a cognitive impairment
In addition to the special arrangements already mentioned, child victims and victims with a cognitive impairment can give evidence at a special hearing. This is intended to minimise the number of times these victims are required to give evidence.
At a special hearing the victim can give all of their evidence, including the cross-examination, for the trial. The evidence will be video-recorded and played to the jury at the trial at a later date. This means the victim should only need to give their evidence once.
Charter of Advocacy
The Charter of Advocacy: Prosecuting or Defending Sexual Assault Cases, produced by the Department of Justice, recognises the specific challenges for victims of sexual assault who are required to give evidence in court.
It reflects and reinforces the ethical obligations required of practitioners under the Victims’ Charter and the legislation which gives additional rights to victims of sexual assault who are required to give evidence.
The charter represents appropriate conduct in sexual assault matters. It is one of a number of initiatives to promote a culture across the legal profession which recognises the challenges of prosecuting and defending sexual assault matters, and seeks to minimise the trauma for victims of sexual assault in the court room.
Prosecution of certain historical sex offences may now be possible
Have you previously been told that the law prevents your matter involving sexual abuse as a child aged 12 years or over from being prosecuted because it is 'out of time', 'statute-barred' or you made your complaint too late?
Due to new legislation it may now be possible to review that decision and commence a prosecution.
If you think you are affected by this, please send your details (including your name, date of birth, name of the offender, name of the police officer you dealt with) to your local Sexual Offence and Child Abuse Investigation Team (SOCIT). Your matter can then be reviewed.
Click here to contact your local SOCIT.