QIS pilot program
Through the use of intermediaries, the Queensland Intermediary Scheme (QIS) will pilot the use of intermediaries to assist witnesses with communication needs to give their best evidence.
The QIS pilot program will operate for a period of two years and is subject to an independent evaluation. The QIS pilot program will commence in Brisbane and Cairns in July 2021.
After 12 months of operation, an interim evaluation will be conducted to track the progress and outcomes of the QIS and reveal any issues. The interim evaluation will allow the QIS team to consider issues and identify future direction before the conclusion of the pilot.
A final evaluation will be conducted in July 2023.
The findings of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia (‘the Royal Commission’) were published in the Criminal Justice Report in 2017.
The report discussed special measures to assist witnesses to give more reliable evidence, including:
- prerecording of all of a witness’ evidence
- introduction of intermediaries
- introduction of ground rules hearings
- improving existing special measures
- improving courtroom issues
- improving the availability and use of appropriate interpreters, including for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander victims and survivors.
In response to recommendations 59 and 60, the Department of Justice and Attorney General undertook to implement the Queensland Intermediary Scheme (QIS) pilot program.
- Recommendation 59 was for all Australian states and territories to establish intermediary schemes similar to the scheme in England and Wales.
- Recommendation 60 was for the states and territories to work with their courts administrations to ensure ground rules hearings are held in child sexual abuse matters to discuss the questioning of prosecution witnesses with specific communication needs.
The report notes the long-term benefits of intermediary schemes and ground rules hearings are likely to generate cultural change throughout the legal profession regarding the appropriateness of courtroom questioning, particularly in relation to children and people with a disability.
Other intermediary schemes
Intermediary schemes have been implemented in most Australian states and several locations globally such as the United Kingdom and New Zealand. Though each scheme varies, they share a common objective: to allow vulnerable witnesses an opportunity to be heard, and to give their best evidence in order to assist in the administration of justice.
New South Wales was the first Australian state to introduce an intermediary scheme in 2016, followed by Victoria in 2018, the Australian Capital Territory and South Australia in 2020, and Tasmania at the beginning of 2021.
The Australian schemes are modelled on the United Kingdom’s Witness Intermediary Scheme (WIS), which was first piloted in England and Wales in 2004. The WIS was highly successful and rolled out nationally in 2008. In the financial year of 2019/20 the WIS intermediaries assisted nearly 7,000 witnesses with communication difficulties.
Intermediary schemes globally have expanded past their pilot phases to include appointing intermediaries to assist defendants, other offences such as murder, and operation beyond pilot locations.