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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 09 Hansard (Thursday, 21 August 2008) . . Page.. 3518 ..

Permitting complainants of violent offences and similar act witnesses in sexual or violent offence proceedings to give their evidence via audiovisual link in a room separate from the courtroom similar to other sexual assault victims is another reform. Similarly, there will be arrangements in the courtroom to restrict the view of the accused from complainants and similar act witnesses in sexual and violent offence proceedings.

The bill provides for the presence of support people for complainants and similar act witnesses in sexual and violent offence proceedings and for children and witnesses with a mental or physical disability in any court proceeding.

Finally, the bill provides a discretion for the court to be closed to the public while alleged victims and witnesses of sexual assault and violent offence proceedings are giving evidence and a more general discretion for other witnesses where the interests of justice require it.

These reforms are consistent with the approach taken in many other common law jurisdictions, including most other states and territories in Australia. I am confident that the bill achieves the necessary balance between reducing the trauma experienced by victims and other vulnerable witnesses in sexual and violent offence court proceedings and at the same time protecting the human rights of the accused to a presumption of innocence and a fair trial.

In conclusion, let me say that it is not surprising that there will be some stakeholders in the legal profession who will assert that these changes are not in the interests of justice. In response to those claims, I would say to members that you must first of all test the strength of those claims and whether they are indeed accurate—as I have indicated, in a number of instances, particularly around the commonwealth Evidence Act, they are not—and, secondly, understand the motivations of those stakeholders.

Someone who comes from a criminal defence perspective will argue for the maintenance of a status quo that gives the best possible opportunities to an accused. That is a rational course of action, but it does not mean that the legislation before us is one that fundamentally changes the balance between complainants and the accused. It does not mean that human rights are being undermined. It means that a range of rights are being considered in this context.

As I said earlier in my comments, it is the role of the criminal justice system not just to preserve and protect the right to a free trial for the accused but to pursue the interests of justice put broadly, including protecting the victims of crime when they come before a court to give evidence and encouraging the broader community to recognise that these are matters that will be taken seriously and that people will be treated fairly should they end up in the criminal justice process. I commend the bill to the Assembly.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill agreed to in principle.

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