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Protection For Child Sex Case Witnesses

WIDESPREAD changes to child protection and sexual assault laws - including a special court to hear sexual assault cases - are being considered by the State Government.
Police, the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and several other government departments are reviewing possible changes in their areas.
Legislation aimed at protecting children who appear before courts as victims in sexual assault cases is being drafted and will be examined by a specialist group of trial experts before being released for public comment.
Among other issues being examined are ways in which trials involving child witnesses can be managed in a more timely way, the rescheduling of interrupted trials and expanding training options for police prosecutors who work with child witnesses.
The Government is also closely monitoring the inquiry by Parliament's Legislative Review Committee into the low conviction rate in sexual assault cases.
The committee is expected to call for major changes to sexual assault laws when it reports later this year.
The Attorney-General's office is also working with two departments-Justice, and Families and Communities - on a program of judicial education about child witnesses. The Government believes this program will form the basis of information packages for others working in litigation involving children as witnesses.
Attorney-General Michael Atkinson has revealed the reform agenda in a written answer to a question from Australian Democrat MLC Kate Reynolds.
He says the agenda for child- protection reform "is huge" and is being overseen by a special Inter-Ministenal Committee on Care and Protection of Children.
Any special sexual assault court is likely to be based on a pilot court now operating in Parramatta, New South Wales.
Mr Atkinson says one of the working groups considering the recommendations of the Layton report into child protection had suggested any SA move on a specialist court should wait until the NSW experiment had been evaluated, possibly this year.
Mr Atkinson said: "Recent changes to the way evidence is taken from children and vulnerable witnesses in SA already allow our criminal courts to provide a similar, or even more protective, environment for witnesses in such cases than occurs in the pilot NSW court. With these and other changes being developed by the Government to the way vulnerable witnesses give evidence, there may be no need for a separate court dedicated to sexual assault."
Mr Atkinson says the Government supports the views expressed in the Layton report that delays in child sexual assault cases should be "kept to a minimum".

Adelaide Advertiser (1-7-2005)
Greg Kelton
 
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

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