Vulnerable Witness provisions (VWP’s)


Downloadable PDF version – Vulnerable Witness Provisions Fact Sheet (PDF 0.4MB)

Why are VWPs needed?
Who is a vulnerable witness?
What are VWP’s?
How will VWP’s help me?
When do VWP’s need to be decided?
Are VWP’s automatic?
Who will make the application?
Who will assess my need for VWP’s?
Who approves the VWP’s requested?
Can VWP’s be challenged or refused?
What happens if I change my mind about any of the VWP’s I have requested?
What are jury members told about VWP’s during the trial?
If I am not considered a ‘Vulnerable Witness’ can I still apply for VWP’s?
Who can I speak to if I require more information about VWP’s?

Giving evidence in court can be a stressful experience.

Some people feel nervous or anxious about going to court. This is common and is to be expected. Sometimes the information people are asked to talk about during a trial can be embarrassing or emotional. Being in the same room as the accused person can make it difficult to give evidence. For others being in the court room itself is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable experience.

If you are worried about giving evidence during a criminal trial you may be eligible for special arrangements called “Vulnerable Witness Provisions” (VWPs) which can assist to make your experience less stressful.
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Why are VWP’s needed?

Under the Evidence Act, 1929 (SA) special arrangements can be made for witnesses deemed to be “vulnerable” in order to protect them from:

  • Embarrassment or distress
  • Being intimidated by the atmosphere of the courtroom, or
  • For any other proper reason

See “Who Is a Vulnerable Witness?” for more information
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Who is a Vulnerable Witness?

A “vulnerable witness” as defined by the Statutes Amendment Evidence & Procedure Act 2008 (SA) means:

  • A witness who is under the age of 16
  • A witness who suffers from a mental disability
  • A witness who is the alleged victim of an offence to which the proceedings relate—
    • where the offence is a serious offence against the person; or
    • in any other case—where, because of the circumstances of the witness or the circumstances of the case, the witness would, in the opinion of the court, be specially disadvantaged if not treated as a vulnerable witness;
  • A witness who –
    • has been subjected to threats of violence or retribution in connection with the proceedings; or
    • has reasonable grounds to fear violence or retribution in connection with the proceedings;

If any of the above applies to you, then you may wish for special arrangements to be requested to help you feel protected or more comfortable in giving evidence.

See “What are VWP’s?” for details of the special provisions that can be applied for.
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What are VWP’s?

Under the Evidence Act 1929 VWPs include the following:

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)

This allows you to give evidence from a separate room, instead of the court room, and have it transmitted to the court room via CCTV. Everyone who is present in the court can see and hear you on the TV screens in the courtroom. You will be able to see and hear the lawyer asking questions and the Judge on your screen. You will not be able to see the accused person on your screen.

One way screen

This means a One-Way Screen is placed between you and the accused person so it blocks your view of him or her. It is important to note that the screen acts as a one-way barrier and the accused can see you whilst you’re giving of evidence.

Court companion

This allows for you to be accompanied by a volunteer, friend, family member or social worker who is not a witness in the case for the purpose of providing you with a familiar and supportive physical presence whilst you give your evidence. It is very important to note that the person is not allowed to talk or assist in any way. The companion must be visible to the Judge and Jury while the witness is giving evidence.

Closed court

An application can be made for the court to be closed to any member of the public whilst you give your evidence. This is usually granted in circumstances where the evidence you give is considered sensitive, personal or embarrassing. A Closed Court will also help prevent people you do not know entering the court room whilst you give your evidence.

Depending on your individual circumstances, you may request one or more of the provisions above when asking for VWPs.

It is important to remember however that the court has the ultimate say on which provisions are approved and allowed.

If you have further questions about VWPs you can speak to the Witness Assistance Officer (WAO) or the DPP solicitor involved in your matter.
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How will VWP’s help me?

Appearing in court as a witness is a daunting task for adults – and can be even more so for children. The atmosphere and regulations of the courtroom can be unfamiliar and intimidating.

Being in a court room to give evidence against an unknown person, a family member or someone else that is known to you can also be overwhelming.

For these reasons, VWP’s can assist you to feel more comfortable and to focus on giving evidence without having the above distractions.
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When do VWP’s need to be decided?

VWPs need to be filed with the court at the earliest stage possible before the commencement of the trial.

Requests for VWPs must be given to the accused within 14 days of the request being filed with the court.

In some situations you can make a late request for VWPs, however it is important to note that these cannot be guaranteed.

DPP staff involved in your matter will discuss how you feel about giving evidence during the trial and will address any of the concerns you may have. However, where you think you may require VWPs please speak to the WAO or the DPP solicitor involved in your matter at the earliest stage possible.
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Are VWP’s automatic?

The simple answer to this question is ‘No’.

A “vulnerable witness” who would like one or any of the special provisions in place for the trial needs to apply for them in advance.
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Who will make the application?

You do not have to apply for the special provisions yourself. The legal staff from the DPP will do this on your behalf.

Legal staff from the DPP are responsible for the written application to the courts for the provisions that have been requested. They must specify in written form the nature of the vulnerability of the witness, the special arrangements sought and the reasons for the arrangements.

It is important you tell the DPP solicitor involved in your matter the provisions you may need and the reasons you feel this will assist you.
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Who will assess my need for VWP’s?

In most circumstances a WAO will assess your requests for VWPs.

Your WAO can provide you with a ‘Court Familiarisation Tour’ before the trial so you have an understanding of what you (or your child) will experience.

During this tour, VWPs can be discussed and assessed. The WAO allocated to you will discuss your circumstances, concerns, the nature of your vulnerability, the special arrangements sought and the reasons why you are requesting these provisions.

Once this is done DPP legal staff will be notified and informed of what you have requested.
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Who approves the VWP’s requested?

A Judge in the District or Supreme Court is responsible for approving the VWPs requested.

They have the ultimate power to grant or refuse any of the special provisions requested.

If you are unsure if your request for VWPs has been approved by the court please speak to the WAO or the DPP solicitor involved in your matter.
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Can VWP’s be challenged or refused?

Yes, VWPs can be challenged by an accused or refused by the court.

This objection must be determined before the vulnerable witness gives their evidence.

The DPP staff associated with your matter will advise you whether the VWPs you have requested have been approved or refused by the court
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What happens if I change my mind about any of the VWP’s I have requested?

It is important to advise the WAO or Solicitor involved in your matter as soon as possible if you wish to make any changes to the VWPs you have requested.

It is important to note that late requests for VWPs cannot be guaranteed and will be left to the Trial Judge to approve or refuse.

Where VWPs are contested and not approved by the court, staff from the DPP and Court will do what they can to ensure you feel comfortable when giving evidence.
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What are jury members told about VWP’s during the trial?

If there are any VWPs arranged for a witness in a trial, the Judge has an obligation to explain this to members of the Jury.

Prior to giving your evidence at the trial the Trial Judge will note the VWPs being used by you and will instruct the Jury to not draw any conclusions unfavourable to the defendant based on the VWPs you have been granted. This is simply to keep the trial fair.
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If I am not considered a ‘Vulnerable Witness’ can I still apply for VWP’s?

In most circumstances VWPs are reserved for persons deemed to be ‘vulnerable’. However there may be exceptions depending on your special circumstances.

If you are not sure if you are eligible for VWPs, speak to the WAO or DPP solicitor involved in your matter who can advise you further.
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Who can I speak to if I require more information about VWP’s?

If you require further information about VWPs you can speak with the WAO or DPP solicitor involved in your matter
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