Sydney, Oct 7 (UNI) Lawyers will be refused permission to cross-examine children and sexual assault victims under an Australian-first law to be brought in by the New South Wales government.
Once the proposed amendment to the Evidence Act comes into force advocates would be banned to ask embarrassing, harassing or intimidating questions, even if their clients tell them to do so.
The changes to the law came after Attorney-General John Hatzistergos last month urged the NSW Bar Association sought protection of children and victims of sexual assault from harassment and predatory cross-examination in court.
''This is about protecting victims - especially children -- who come forward and deserve the right to not be harassed in providing evidence,'' NSW Premier Morris Iemma was quoted by Sydney Morning Herald as saying.
Judges will have the authority to declare a victim a ''no-go zone'' for barristers, who have caused community outrage by attacking victims in the witness box.
Victims can now apply to tell their story without interruption but the changes will streamline the process and mean victims and witnesses will only be able to be cross-examined if the judge allows it.
''These changes will mean vulnerable witnesses and traumatised victims will be able to give their evidence in narrative form, rather than traditional question and answer,'' Mr Iemma said.
''Children and victims of sexual assault are more comfortable in relating their experiences in a narrative form, without interruption to their account.
''Narrative evidence gives victims ownership of their experience in court, rather than having it controlled by lawyers. These changes will provide a greater level of respect for what can be a difficult experience in court,'' he added.
Mr Iemma said that evidence delivered in narrative form could be just as accurate as evidence given during cross-examination.
The changes, which will become law early next year, will also remove any presumption that children are less reliable witnesses than adults, and will ensure expert evidence about child development and behaviour is admissible, especially in relation to sexual assault victims.
''This will help rectify gaps and misunderstandings in the court's knowledge about the way that children deal with the trauma of sexual assault, and how it changes their behaviour,'' Mr Iemma said.