Taking an oath
Before giving evidence in court, witnesses must take an oath (i.e. a promise to tell the truth). 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.
The rule that required a child’s evidence to be corroborated (i.e. confirmed by independent evidence) has been abolished. A judge must not warn or suggest to a jury that the law regards children as unreliable witnesses (s 165A Evidence Act 2008 (Vic)).
For witnesses under 18 (and certain other witnesses) in court cases about a sexual offence, family violence or certain other serious offences, arrangements can be made to help the witness. For example, under section 360 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009 (Vic), the court may:
a permit evidence to be given in a place other than the courtroom via closed-circuit television (CCTV);
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 giving evidence;
e require legal practitioners not to robe;
f require legal practitioners to remain seated while examining or cross-examining the witness.
In court cases about a sexual offence or certain serious offences to the person, evidence in chief of a witness (i.e. the questions a prosecutor asks a witness) who is 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 “Contacts”).