Cabinet has approved a reform package to improve the way child witnesses are treated in the criminal justice system. The reforms will reduce the lengthy delays before children give evidence at court and improve the questioning of children, particularly during cross-examination.
Significant reforms in the package include:
Two legislative presumptions for child witnesses under the age of 12, which together will ensure these children can give evidence, via CCTV, at a separate hearing which is recorded and replayed at the trial.
A requirement that pre-recording hearings are held within a specified timeframe, to ensure children can give their evidence as early as possible.
Introducing the option of an intermediary at court for child complainants under the age of 18.
Ensuring all child witnesses under 18 have an automatic right to a support person when giving evidence at court.
The Ministry of Justice will also work with the judiciary and the New Zealand Law Society to improve the availability of guidance and training on questioning child witnesses.
An Evidence Amendment Bill making the required legislative changes will be introduced to Parliament in 2012.