Special measures for children in court: Law in action in a multi-agency committee

Jane Goodman-Delahunty, Natalie Martschuk, Martine Powell, Nina Westera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Approximately 25 years ago, special measures were adopted in many jurisdictions to support child sexual assault complainants in legal proceedings. This study tracked activities of a multi-agency committee of criminal justice professionals, including social workers, in enacting those provisions. We manually reviewed 99 sets of minutes of meetings of the New South Wales Sexual Assault Review Committee, spanning over two decades. Findings identified numerous gaps between legislation and practice, and the actions of this group, led by prosecutors, to narrow those gaps. Qualitative analyses revealed more focus on legislative issues and research in the early years, when closed-circuit television (CCTV) use commenced. Key evidence-based recommendations of the Committee were: (1) prerecorded evidence-in-chief of complainants; (2) cross-examination via CCTV; and (3) witness intermediaries. Investigation of and responses to stakeholder feedback on practice issues was an integral and consistent function of the Committee. In later years, the focus shifted to technological and administrative difficulties with prerecorded police interviews, CCTV, and court closure. IMPLICATIONS Longitudinal analyses revealed longstanding and robust issues in implementing special measures to improve experiences of vulnerable complainants in giving evidence. Proactive prosecution leadership and multidisciplinary membership contributed to a well-informed, evidence-based focus on the needs of vulnerable witnesses. Stakeholders from multiple agencies collaborated efficiently to resolve many practical issues, but improvements to certain systemic issues require resources beyond their capacity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-516
Number of pages13
JournalAustralian Social Work
Volume72
Issue number4
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Jun 2019

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