Senate Passes Bill to Protect Vulnerable Witnesses

The Evidence (Special Measures) Act 2012 was passed in the Senate on November 23.

The Bill seeks to introduce special measures that can be used to facilitate the giving of evidence by vulnerable witnesses and other specified witnesses.

Opening the debate, Minister of Justice, Senator the Hon. Mark Golding, noted that the Bill provides for the admission of video recorded evidence and evidence by way of a live link.

“The use of television live link technology will allow the court to receive evidence from witnesses who are unable to attend the court proceedings and from those who may be regarded as vulnerable, due to the trauma or fear of giving evidence in court,” Senator Golding said.

He explained that live link technology allows the witness to give evidence from a location outside the court, where that evidence can be seen and heard at the trial by the trial participants in court, and also allows the witness to hear and see the members of the court at the time he or she is giving evidence.

“It is also proposed to allow vulnerable witnesses in certain circumstances to give evidence in chief by way of a video recording. Video recorded evidence is a recording of an interview of a witness which is then admitted into evidence at trial as evidence in chief of that witness. The witness will still be required to attend court for cross examination,” Senator Golding said.

He added that in many cases, several months or years elapse between the offence and the trial and the memory of a child witness often fades to the point where they no longer accurately remember the details of the traumatic events which they suffered or witnessed.

“A video recorded interview preserves the witnesses’ earlier account of the alleged events and allows the court to obtain evidence that depending on subsequent events may not be available at the time of trial,” the Justice Minister said.

In his comments, Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate, Senator Arthur Williams, noted that the Bill was long overdue.

“These measures must advance the proper administration of justice in Jamaica. Video recording is particularly useful to persons who are underage, who are involved in sexual offences and who are some way infirmed,” Senator Williams said.

He added that the Government should ensure that the proper infrastructure is put in place to facilitate the use of video technology.

He also called for the Regulations for the Act and the Rules of Court be promulgated in the shortest possible time.

Opposition Senator, Christopher Tufton, in his comments, pointed out that this legislation will prove useful in evidence being given by persons affected by the lottery scam, due to the use of video links.

For her part, Information Minister, Senator the Hon. Sandrea Falconer, noted that the Bill will allow for women and children, who are victims of crime such as sexual violence,  to be able to give their evidence from in front of a camera and not in a court room where they will be further traumatised.

“I think it is an important step in the protection of vulnerable witnesses. I would also support the point made by Senator Tufton about those witnesses abroad who we need to get evidence from, especially in the lotto scam, which has been a blight on Jamaica’s image abroad,” she said.

In his response to Senator Williams’ concerns about proper facilities, Senator Golding said that a technical committee has been established to look at the issues involved, “in how you properly provide for video recorded evidence and live link recording.”

The Bill was passed and will be sent to the House of Representatives for its deliberation and approval.