Sexual assault trials in the ACT take place in the Supreme Court, and during trials, victims are protected from seeing the ‘defendant’ through a remote witness facility which is in a location away from the court. The remote facility has a monitor to see the courtroom, a microphone to speak through and a camera so the victim’s image can be seen by those in the courtroom. On the monitor, the victim will be able to see the judge, the judge’s associate, the Department of Public Prosecutions (DPP) prosecutor and the defence lawyer in the courtroom.
The camera in the court-room is adjusted so the victim does not have to see the ‘defendant’ during the proceedings. The DPP can also apply for a closed court – whereby general members of the public are unable to attend the proceedings – and the Judge will use his or her discretion to determine the outcome of the application.
Below we look at Giving Evidence and Cross-Examination and The Outcome (Verdict).
Giving Evidence and Cross-Examination
As the chief witness you will be called upon to give evidence. This first involves reading an oath of affirmation that says what you will say is true, and you will be asked a few questions such as your name and sometimes other details such as your date of birth and occupation. You have a right not to give your address. In any media reports regarding what offences took place your name will be suppressed, and if naming the defendant would reveal your identity their name will also be suppressed.
If you made a recorded to statement to police on video, usually this will be played to the Judge and Jury. Then the prosecutor will ask you questions so you do not leave out any important details, followed by the defense lawyer, who can ask you questions about the information in your statement or matters which have not yet been raised. Following this the prosecutor can ask you any additional questions if there is anything he or she thinks is important to help clarify any information you have provided.
Survivors of sexual assault usually find going to trial difficult, particularly the cross-examination. There are some tips which you can keep in mind which may help you in responding to questions in court:
- Consider each questions
- Take your time to answer
- If you don’t understand the question you can say so or ask for the question to be repeated
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, you can say so
- Only answer the question
- If you become distressed you can ask for a break
- Speak clearly
- Don’t go into unnecessary explanation
- Remember to keep breathing
(Justice and Community Safety Directorate, 2013a)
Counsellors at CRCC are able to explain more about the court process, offer support in preparing for court and accompany you to court if you would like support during the proceedings, or if you prefer, offer a referral for support with another agency. Having support can help make the process less intimidating. Call CRCC on 6247 2525 for more information.
The Outcome (Verdict)
After hearing all of the evidence the Jury (or Judge in a Judge-only trial) will make a determination regarding the charges, and if the defendant is found guilty on any of the charges, a date will be set for Sentencing. If the perpetrator has been found guilty the victim can ask the court to consider compensation as part of the sentencing process. The presiding Judge or Magistrate will make a determination in this regard. Victims can speak with their police case officer to make an application for compensation before the sentencing. Before the sentencing the defense can request reports relating to the defendant, such as psychological reports.
The DPP can tender a document called the Victim Impact Statement which is written by the victim and outlines the effects they have experienced resulting from the offences(s). The Judge will take all of these reports into account as well as the number and nature of the charges and hand down a sentence.
If the defendant is found not guilty (acquitted) this can be devastating for a victim. They may feel they are not believed or that they are in some way guilty. It is important to know that if a defendant is acquitted, this does not mean that the offences did not take place, it means that the bar of evidence which is “beyond reasonable doubt “has not been reached.
It is important at this time that the victim is supported at this difficult time, whether it be through trusted friends, family or a counsellor. CRCC can provide support both face to face and over the crisis line on 6247 2525 at this difficult time. Whilst the outcome of ‘not guilty’ can be devastating, there are also many survivors who have been through criminal proceedings and report that regardless of the outcome, they got something out of the process and many would go through it again despite the verdict.