Queensland Intermediary Scheme
Often the comprehension and communication difficulties experienced by people with communication needs are exacerbated by the criminal justice process itself, by investigative interviewing processes and by the traditional types of questioning in criminal trials.
Vulnerable witnesses may be unable to give clear and accurate evidence due to their communication needs arising from a range of reasons, including (but not limited to):
- very young or very old age
- cognitive issues
- learning disabilities
- mental illness
- ADHD and autism.
The Queensland Intermediary Scheme (QIS) aims to overcome communication barriers and create a more accessible justice system by facilitating the communication of evidence that may not otherwise be heard.
Through the use of intermediaries, the QIS aims to:
- reduce trauma to vulnerable witnesses
- improve the quality of evidence
- give police officers, the legal community and the courts a better understanding of the needs of vulnerable witnesses
- improve access to justice
- reinforce the importance of effectively and respectfully responding to child sexual offence allegations.
The QIS is an initiative arising out of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. The QIS will commence in Brisbane and Cairns in July 2021 and will operate as a two-year pilot program
Through the use of intermediaries, QIS will assist witnesses with communication needs give their best evidence.
In the pilot phase, the QIS is limited to prosecution witnesses in child sexual offence matters who:
- are under 16, or
- have an impairment of the mind, or
- have difficulty communicating.
Any prosecution witness in a child sexual offence matter who falls into any category listed above (regardless of age) is eligible for an intermediary
‘Child sexual offence’ means an offence of a sexual nature committed in relation to a child, including offences contained in Chapter 22 (Offences against morality) and Chapter 32 (Rape and sexual assault) of the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld).
The insertion of a new Division 4C into the Evidence Act 1977 (Qld) will provide the framework in which the QIS operates. These legislative amendments to the Evidence Act will commence on a date set by proclamation. Currently, they can be viewed in the Criminal Code (Child Sexual Offences Reform) and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2020.
Special measures for witnesses
There are existing special provisions included in the Evidence Act 1977 (Qld) to help facilitate access to justice for vulnerable witnesses giving evidence. They include:
- the recording of a witness’ evidence prior to trial (referred to as pre-recording), which can be played in court and admissible as if the evidence were given in person
- having the witness in another room to the defendant when the witness’ evidence is being taken
- having a support person with the witness while they are giving evidence
- the exclusion of the public from the courtroom while the witness gives evidence and whilst the pre-recorded evidence is being played
- the court’s power to control the questioning of a witness and disallow improper questions.
The intermediary scheme will be an additional special provision for vulnerable witnesses.
Refer to the Court Services Queensland information for witnesses about going to court and giving evidence.
The Queensland Intermediary Scheme works alongside existing support services available to witnesses in Queensland. These services have been consulted during the establishment of the QIS:
- Victim Assist Queensland (VAQ) provides information and advice for victims of crime including information about support services, victims’ rights and financial assistance. VAQ aims to provide a tailored, needs-based response, focusing on financial assistance and support for victims rather than just criminal compensation.
- Protect All Children Today Inc. (PACT) is a not-for-profit organisation that provides support, including free counselling, for children aged 3 to 17 years who are required to give evidence in criminal courts, either as victims of, or witnesses to, a crime.
- Court Network is a free community service provided by volunteers for all court users: victims, witnesses, accused, family and friends. Court Network provides support and non-legal information and appropriate referrals to other services, such as family violence services, victim support, housing, mental health and community legal centres.