6 Oct 2011

Call to preserve rights of accused in child justice review

9:01 am on 6 October 2011

A defence lawyer says legislation to improve the treatment of child witnesses in court must also ensure the rights of an accused are protected.

Justice Minister Simon Power has announced a package of reforms which include the use of specialist intermediaries to question witnesses under the age of 12.

He says that's aimed at ensuring children are not brutalised by their participation in the courts process.

Auckland barrister Richard Earwaker says care must also be taken to preserve the rights of an accused, and intermediaries asking questions on behalf of a lawyer may fail to achieve that.

He says there are times when children are either lying or are mistaken about their evidence, and whatever system is adopted must be robust enough to be able to expose that.

A law professor says proposed changes to how children are questioned could be dangerous if it stops defence lawyers questioning children altogether.

Child law specialist Mark Henaghan, from Otago University, says a court cannot just accept the evidence from a child and, to ensure a fair trial, defence lawyers have to be able to continue to ask the questions they want.

The changes will be included in legislation to be introduced to Parliament next year.