Lismore and Byron Bay courthouses are to be outfitted with remote witness rooms that will facilitate vulnerable witnesses being able to provide evidence via videolink.
State Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin welcomed this NSW Government initiative as it would make victim/survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence , mainly women and children but some men, feel safer when giving evidence in our court system.
‘The NSW Government passed legislation to allow complainants to give evidence remotely via audio visual link, and now Federal funding would enable Lismore Courthouse to establish a new witness room to conduct it well and safely,’ Ms Saffin told The Echo.
Lismore Courthouse will be provided wit a new remote witness room, state-of-the-art audio-visual link equipment, acoustic panelling, new furniture and secure access doors. Byron Bay Courthouse will receive a new remote witness room, state-of-the-art audio-visual link equipment and an upgraded safe room.
The works for both courthouses will also include upgrades of essential safety features, funded from the NSW Government’s $100 million Sustaining Critical Infrastructure Program, announced in the November 2020 budget. The contracts for Lismore and Byron Bay courthouses have been awarded to Intrec Management Pty Ltd. Start dates are currently being finalised and the stimulus projects will be completed by the end of the year.
Tamara Smith, State Member for Ballina, told The Echo that she ‘welcomes the upgrading of technology in our local courthouses and modernising them in line with good practices worldwide.’
‘The cost and inconvenience of travelling to a court as a witness is significant and is ultimately borne by tax payers. However, all accused persons and witnesses should have the right to give testimony in person if that is their wish. Remote witness statements should always be offered in the interests of safety and well being for witnesses, and justice for accused persons. It should not be a cost cutting exercise.’
Nationals Member of the Legislative Council Ben Franklin said this was a positive step forward for victim-survivors to be able to feel more secure in reporting abuse and giving evidence in court.
‘Remote witness rooms mean that victim-survivors do not have to face their alleged abuser or feel intimidated in the court room. They can give evidence from a secure and safe room via videolink to help them feel more comfortable,’ Mr Franklin said.
‘Speaking in a courtroom can be a daunting experience, especially for those who have faced trauma, and it takes courage so I’m glad our region will have two new remote witness rooms to support victim-survivors.’
Attorney General and Minister for Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence Mark Speakman said witnesses have commonly been through serious trauma and coming to court can be very stressful.
‘This is particularly true for victim-survivors of domestic, family, and sexual violence,’ Mr Speakman said.
‘These investments are part of our ongoing commitment to support victim-survivors if they choose to report to police, and to help them feel confident in coming to court.’
Later this year, self-represented defendants will be banned from personally cross examining complainants in domestic violence criminal proceedings and related apprehended domestic violence order (AVDO) proceedings, under new laws passed last November.
As part of the same reforms, complainants in these proceedings also now have a prima facie entitlement to give evidence remotely via AVL and in a closed court.