Sex attack evidence laws to change

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 10:17 26/11/2013

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New laws which make it less traumatic for sex attack victims to give evidence in court will be introduced next year, Justice Minister Judith Collins has confirmed.

The changes include a requirement for a rape case defendant to give notice - before a trial begins - of intention to use evidence about a victim's sexual history.

Most child witnesses will give their testimony to a court through a video of their police interview. If this is not possible, they can do so by CCTV or from behind a screen.

Minors will also be allowed automatic right to a support person in court. And extra training for lawyers and judges in dealing with children will be provided.

Collins intends to amend the Evidence Act, introducing legislation early next year.

"It's always difficult for victims of sexual violence to come forward to bring their attacker to justice - we want to ensure that when they do come forward they know what to expect in the courtroom," she said.

Fairfax Media first revealed the changes last month, in the wake of the Roast Busters teenage sex scandal. The public began demanding changes to the justice system after police said no victims came forward.

The changes announced by Collins were made in a Law Commission report published in March. She said it is too easy in sexual violence cases for the defendant to "ambush" the victim with details of their previous sexual experiences.

Under current laws a defendant can submit evidence on a complainant's sexual experience during a trial. Permission to introduce this evidence can be sought from the judge at any time during the trial.

"Being in court with the defendant can be difficult. These changes will make the experience of giving evidence easier for children and help ensure that their involvement in the justice system is not traumatic," Collins added.

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