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November 10, 2008 permalink
A traditional legal protection is the right to confront your accuser. This means when a witness gives damaging testimony, he faces the accused in the courtroom. It limits perjury because a person who feels comfortable badmouthing another out of his presence will be inhibited from lying to his face. This is especially important with child witnesses. A little girl may say, after coaching, "Daddy put his finger in my wee-wee", but she will be much less willing to lie to daddy's face: "You put your finger in my wee-wee".
A legal "reform" in Bermuda will remove the requirement for child witnesses to be in the courtroom with the defendants, allowing testimony instead by video link. The result will be more parents convicted on false charges, more parentectomies and more child abuse, the opposite of the results claimed by the reformers.
Courtroom protection for children
Children will no longer be "double victims" by having to give evidence in the same courtroom as their suspected attackers, youngsters' rights campaigner Sheelagh Cooper said yesterday.
Mrs. Cooper saluted imminent legislation allowing witnesses to appear in court via video link — saying it would protect children and improve the chances of justice being done.
She said putting child victims on the stand near the accused has increased and prolonged their suffering, while the intimidation they may feel makes them less likely to give reliable evidence.
Responding to new video link legislation announced in Friday's Throne Speech, Mrs. Cooper of the Coalition for the Protection of Children said yesterday: "It's very good news. It makes a world of difference to the child victim if they can be videotaped in a place that's comfortable for them, where they are safe and don't feel intimidated by the accused being in the room with them.
"A screen in the court room can help, but doesn't go far enough. Especially with very young children, we have seen cases where a child doesn't give the same testimony in court as they did with the Police. This will certainly enhance the likelihood that we get a proper testimony.
"This will also reduce the trauma for children because at the moment they're double victims. Most children don't even tell anyone about what happened to them. The few that do, do it to someone they are close to. Having done that, they have to tell the story to a Police officer. Then they have to go to court, in a strange environment, in front of the accused.
"We may hear cries of concern from defence counsel that they can't directly cross examine a child in the court room, but that's the only argument against this."
Governor Sir Richard Gozney had said in the Throne Speech: "Technology will be used in this fight against witness intimidation as the Government will introduce legislation that will permit evidence to be given by witnesses via video link in circumstances where certain criteria are met."
Attorney General Kim Wilson added at a later press conference that child witnesses would have "the safety and security to be able to provide their evidence from a safe place away from the court room".
Sen. Wilson said video conferencing would also allow suspects of serious crimes to appear in court without having to leave Westgate.
She said this would mean an end to heavy Police resources having to man the roads surrounding Magistrates' Court in high-profile cases that tend to attract crowds of onlookers.
Director of Public Prosecutions Rory Field said: "Video link is increasingly used in other overseas jurisdictions. It would prove particularly advantageous for Bermuda in that there are cost implications and problems in obtaining witnesses from overseas.
"Video link should make the process cheaper and more efficient. I hope that video link could also be initially used for, or extended to, vulnerable witnesses in Bermuda so witnesses might not have to physically go into court at all."
However, he cautioned that this would have to be balanced with the right of the defendant to have fair proceedings.
Other moves to aid witnesses announced on Friday included plans to relocate them overseas for their own safety when necessary (see story, Page 8).
Source: Bermuda Royal Gazette