Friday, August 19, 2011

Evidence of vulnerable witnesses – pre-trial recording

Only rarely will it be appropriate for a court to permit pre-trial recording of the evidence, including cross-examination, of a vulnerable witness: R v M (CA335/2011) [2011] NZCA 303 (9 August 2011, published in redacted form 19 August 2011).

The judgment discusses the reasons for and against this procedure and concludes that it would take a compelling case to overcome the disadvantages. Those disadvantages include the increased use of court resources and time, the increased costs in all counsel having to prepare twice, greater delays for accused persons as the reasons favouring fast-tracking of child sex cases would no longer apply and there would be ongoing stress for family members.

And, more generally, the defence is not required to show its hand before trial and forcing it to do so could adversely affect fairness of the trial, the judge would need to be sure that full disclosure had been made to the defence before pre-recording of cross-examination, the sole advantage to complainants would be the reduction in delay before giving evidence, the jury could not properly assess the spontaneous reaction of the defendant to the complainant's evidence, the jury would not be able to ask questions of the complainant unless he or she was required to attend at the trial, and it is highly likely that such attendance would be required in the interests of fairness if it were claimed by the defence that new topics for cross-examination had arisen from information obtained after the pre-trial recording had been completed.