Persons under 18 years may give evidence in court if they understand the duty to tell the truth. A judge must not suggest to a jury that the law regards children as an unreliable class of witness. Young persons may be found to have civil or criminal liability.
A person under 14 who does not understand the oath may give evidence (though not on oath) if they understand the duty of speaking the truth and are capable of responding rationally to questions about the facts in issue.
The rule that required a child’s evidence to be corroborated has been abolished. A judge must not warn or suggest to a jury that the law regards children as an unreliable class of witness (s 165A Evidence Act 2008 (Vic)).
In proceedings regarding a sexual offence, family violence or certain serious offences to the person, the court may make alternative arrangements regarding the giving of evidence by a witness under 18 (and certain other classes of witnesses). Under section 360 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic), the court may:
a permit such evidence to be given in other than the courtroom by means of closed-circuit television or other similar facilities;
b use screens to remove the defendant from the witness’s direct line of vision;
c permit a person to be beside the witness while they are giving evidence, for the purpose of providing emotional support;
d permit only persons specified by the court to be present while the witness is give evidence;
e require legal practitioners not to robe; or
f require legal practitioners to remain seated while examining or cross-examining the witness.
In a proceeding regarding a sexual offence or certain serious offences to the person, evidence in chief of a witness under 18 may take the form of a video recording (s 362).
Information about support services for witnesses can be obtained from Court Network (see “Co