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Evidence in Domestic Violence Matters (Qld)

The Evidence and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 was recently introduced to the Queensland parliament. The Bill seeks to change how a complainant’s evidence is taken in criminal proceedings for domestic violence offences. The government has started a pilot program in Southport to trial the proposed changes. This article deals with the proposed changes to the hearing of evidence in domestic violence matters in Queensland.

The proposed changes came about as a result of recommendations from the Queensland Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce, which was set up by the government to combat domestic violence. One of the primary purposes of the Bill is to change how a complainant’s evidence in chief is taken by limiting the requirement for the complainant to recount the allegations. This is intended to limit the trauma to the complainant resulting from reliving the violent conduct.

Video recording of evidence in domestic violence matters

The most pertinent change introduced by the Bill is that a properly trained police officer will be able to video record the evidence of a complainant, with their informed consent, and use this in court. This will replace the current practice of the complainant being required to give a written statement to police and subsequently provide oral evidence in court. The video recording will be played in court instead.

In criminal proceedings generally, an electronic recording of evidence of any Crown witness, including a complainant, cannot ordinarily be played as a substitute for the witness appearing before the court and giving evidence. There are only a few exceptions to this.

Videotapes of evidence in chief taken by police are most commonly used for child witnesses who give evidence in criminal proceedings. They are used to reduce the trauma to a child from being exposed to legal proceedings.

Disadvantages for the defence

There are some disadvantages that video recordings of evidence may cause a defendant.

The complainant will not be required to recall their version of events before a magistrate or a jury. When an accused’s defence involves establishing inconsistencies in a complainant’s story it is all the more important to have them recount their memory of events in order to test their evidence and assess whether there are any substantial differences in their initial and subsequent versions. This is ordinarily done in examination in chief rather than in cross-examination.

A defendant will not be entitled to a copy of the video recording of the complainant’s evidence and will only be allowed to access the recording at their solicitor’s office;

t may become more difficult to obtain ‘addendum’ statements. These are statements that are produced after the initial statement in order to address aspects of the evidence that were deficient or lacking in the first statement. Addendum statements are sometimes requested by the defence as part of disclosure in order for the accused to better understand the case against them.

Nonetheless, given video recordings of evidence have been used in matters involving children, the introduction of this practice is not a substantial departure from principles that are already settled as to how evidence is to be taken by video recording.

Video recordings of evidence also come with some advantages to the defendant.

Firstly, there is less of an opportunity for a complainant to add to their version of events during a trial with material that may take a defendant and their legal team by surprise. Secodnyl, the complainant is locked into a single version of events. Thirdly, if there is no cross-examination required, it may assist in making a trial more efficient in some cases.

It is clear that video recordings of complainants’ evidence have their advantages and disadvantages for both prosecution and defence. There is as yet no certainty that they will be employed as the usual mode of giving evidence for complainants’ in domestic violence matters in Queensland as the changes are still being trialled.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

Fernanda Dahlstrom

This article was written by Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws, a Bachelor of Arts and a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice. She has also completed a Master’s in Writing and Literature. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory and in family law in Queensland.

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