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Think of the children

Published:Wednesday | May 30, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Alessandro Boyd, Gleaner Writer

Gordon-Harrison anxious for changes to court procedure

Children's Advocate Diahann Gordon-Harrison has reiterated that her office is anxiously awaiting the passage of the Evidence Amendment Act, which will make the presentation of evidence a less-frightening experience for vulnerable witnesses, especially children in sexual abuse trials.

Currently, if a child accuses someone of sexual abuse, the evidence has to be given in a resident magistrate's court. The court will then determine whether there is enough basis to send the matter to the Supreme Court.

Upon reaching the Supreme Court, the child has to present the evidence again, except this time it is before a judge and jury made up of persons drawn from the society.

Unkind process

"We have seen instances where the preliminary inquiry is done in the resident magistrate's court from 2007 and the matter doesn't come to trial until 2009. That is two to three years later. Can you imagine the time lapse? Our contention is that the child has to refresh the story in their minds, traumatising them all over again, often affecting their ability to recall all the details," Gordon-Harrison said.

The act has two amendments. First, there is the use of video-recorded evidence. Through this amendment, the child goes to the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse to make a report, which is recorded. That report is used as evidence instead of requiring the child to make a statement in court, thereby limiting the need for the child to go into the details all over again.

"The other amendment is the ability to give evidence via a live link, instead of the child going into court and giving the alleged offender the opportunity to stare them down, which may cause intimidation and nervousness," Gordon-Harrison said.

"With the live link, the child can be in a more comfortable place, such as their own house or some other agreed location. The technology in the courtroom broadcasts the child and evidence to the courtroom."

She added: "We are very hopeful, however, as I had dialogue with Senator Mark Golding, minister of justice. He assured me that this is one of the pieces of legislation he intends to table in the House of Parliament in short order, and that it is a matter of priority in dealing with the act."