Thursday, 10 August 2017
Summary Offences (Interviewing Vulnerable Witnesses) Amendment Bill
The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: As the Dignity Party was one of the key voices in the development and eventual implementation of the Disability Justice Plan to which this bill pertains, I am sure it will be no surprise to anyone in this chamber or beyond that we support this amendment bill, which seeks, essentially, to clarify who can be deemed a vulnerable witness, under which circumstances and what supports they are to be given when they are deemed to be a vulnerable witness appearing in a court case.
I understand the bill addresses a potential gap that was identified in the existing vulnerable witnesses act, noted in a recent Supreme Court decision. This amendment provides explicit admissibility of, for example, a video interview with a so-called vulnerable party, which, as other speakers have said, is a child up to the age of 14 years or a person with a disability whose disability makes it difficult for them to give evidence without the right settings or support. Importantly, this bill ensures that that assistance is available in all offences, not just the particular ones other speakers have outlined.
We note that the Law Society has some concerns about this bill, but they must also note, I believe, that far too often people with disabilities and other conditions or concerns that might make them more susceptible to abuse in particular, do not see justice done through the justice system. This is particularly the case for victims, but it is also an issue for alleged offenders. In fact, we have seen cases where people with disabilities were wrongly convicted of a crime that they still very strongly argue they did not commit. They may well have been proven innocent if they had had the right support to give evidence, so we certainly do not want to see that happening on either end of the spectrum, whether that be as a victim or as an alleged offender or even a witness. Everybody participating in the justice system has the right to do so.
As other speakers have pointed out, the witnesses who are deemed vulnerable under this legislation are very often capable of giving very important and coherent evidence, as long as they have the right settings and supports around them, be that giving evidence via pre-recorded video or video link or other options. As I have said many times before, but I think it is worth saying again: no-one is truly voiceless, there are only those people to whom we have not yet learned to listen.
I hope that this further amendment to this important piece of legislation will help us to do that because—particularly as we lead the nation with the Disability Justice Plan, and I know other states are looking to copy what South Australia has done in this respect—it is really important that we do not accept the status quo and that we improve the plan and the legislation associated with it where it needs to be improved. We can learn from our findings so far. With those words, we very strongly commend the bill.
Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. T.T. Ngo.