Children giving evidence by an intermediary - what does it mean?

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On 5 July 2021, the Queensland Intermediary Scheme (QIS) was commenced in relation to children giving evidence in sexual offence matters.

Under division 4C of the Evidence Act 1977 (Qld), children giving evidence in sexual offence matters can now be assisted/and or questioned by an “intermediary” rather than Defence Counsel.

The amendment to the legislation will fundamentally change the way evidence is received from child in these criminal trials. The function of the intermediary is to:

(a) to communicate or explain to the witness questions put to the witness, to the extent necessary to enable the witness to understand the questions;

(b) to communicate or explain to a person asking questions of the witness the answers given by the witness in reply, to the extent necessary to enable the person to understand the answers.

Importantly, the Legislation mandates that the Intermediary is Officer of the Court and must act impartially (family members and the like are excluded from being intermediaries). If the court appoints an intermediary for a child’s evidence, the Court may also give directions about:

(a) the manner of questioning the witness;

(b) the duration of questioning the witness;

(c)  the questions that may, or may not, be put to the witness;

(d) if there is more than 1 defendant—the allocation among the defendants of the topics about which the witness may be questioned;

You can imagine how daunting it would be for a child to be cross-examined by experienced Defence Counsel. The amendments to the legislation have every good intention to protect children and level the playing field.

Ultimately, ensuring procedural fairness to all parties is the essential role of the Court. It will be interesting to see the practical effect of the amendments.


This article is of a general nature and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you require further information, advice or assistance for your specific circumstances, please contact the Fisher Dore team.

 

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