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Reforms to protect sexual assault victims, child witnesses

Hon Judith Collins

Minister of Justice

26 November 2013       Media Statement       

Reforms to protect sexual assault victims, child witnesses

Justice Minister Judith Collins today announced improvements to the Evidence Act that will make appearing in court less traumatic for victims of sexual violence and child witnesses.

“It’s always difficult for victims of sexual violence to come forward to bring their attacker to justice – we want to ensure that when they do come forward they know what to expect in the courtroom,” Ms Collins says. 

Among the proposed changes is a requirement that the defence in sexual violence cases gives notice before a trial begins of their intention to use evidence about a victim’s previous sexual experiences.

Ms Collins says it’s too easy in cases involving sexual violence for the defendant to ambush the victim with details of their previous sexual experiences. Currently, permission to introduce this evidence can be sought from the judge at any time during the trial. 

The Government has also approved a number of changes related to child witnesses and how they give evidence in court. Changes include giving child witnesses the automatic right to a support person in court, providing extra guidance and training for lawyers and judges dealing with child witnesses, and creating a new presumption about the way child witnesses give evidence.

“Being in court with the defendant can be difficult. These changes will make the experience of giving evidence easier for children and help ensure that their involvement in the justice system is not traumatic,” Ms Collins says.

“There will now be a presumption that child witnesses will give their main evidence through the video of their police interview.  If such a video cannot be used, child witnesses will be able to give evidence via closed-circuit TV or from behind a screen.” 

The Evidence Act was recently the subject of a comprehensive review by the Law Commission, which was released earlier this year.  The Law Commission recommended a number of amendments to the Act to ensure it is working as intended. The Government plans to accept all of these recommendations and will progress further changes to the Act to benefit victims and child witnesses.

An amendment bill bringing the changes into effect is expected to be introduced next year.

The full Law Commission report is available at www.lawcom.govt.nz/project/review-evidence-act-2006

Evidence_Act_QA.pdf

ENDS

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