7. Witnesses and victims of crime


Children and young people can be victims of crime or may witness a crime. Children and young people may feel upset about what they have seen or what has happened to them, especially if they are very young or the crime involved sexual abuse. Sometimes they are the only witness or the accused person is someone the child or young person knows well. Laws should take into account that the child or young person may feel scared and anxious. However, the laws must still be fair so that the accused person has a fair trial.

Interviewing children and young people

When police first investigate a crime, a child or young person who is a witness to the crime may be interviewed by a police officer or a social worker. There are no rules about how this interview should be conducted or what training the interviewer should have. It has been suggested that this interview should be videotaped so that the child or young person does not have to do another interview later.

Counselling before trial

Some children or young people who are witnesses or victims of crime receive counselling by court officers. However, there are few rules about who should be counselled and who should do the counselling.

Child witnesses in court

Sometimes a child or young person may not be able to give full and accurate evidence because he or she is too scared or embarrassed, especially in cases of sexual abuse. This may be a problem particularly where the accused person is in court or the family has put pressure on the child or young person to tell a certain story.

Some suggestions have been made to help children and young people relax and give more accurate evidence. We welcome your comments on these.

Videotaped interviews

of a child or young person’s evidence can be shown to the court instead of the child or young person having to give evidence in court in person. However, the child or young person may still have to answer questions in court.

Closed circuit television

(CCTV) allows a child or young person to give evidence to a court ‘live’ through a television and watch what is going on in court from another room. CCTV tends to result in better evidence because the child is not upset by the accused person, the jury or the courtroom.

Communicators or support persons

are provided by some courts for children or young people who are witnesses. The communicator explains to the child or young person what is happening in the court and the meaning of legal words used. This helps the child give better evidence.

Closed courtrooms

can be ordered by a judge to stop people who are not part of the trial coming into the court.

Issue 22: We would like to hear any comments you may have about processes for children and young people who have witnessed or are a victim of a crime.