From: The Advertiser
June 30, 2011
SEVERELY disabled people will be able to give evidence in court against those who sexually abuse them.
Attorney-General John Rau has pledged to change laws to make it possible.
The announcement, to be made today by Attorney-General Rau, has been welcomed as vindication by disabled advocates and the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner Leena Sudano.
Ms Sudano was criticised this week for revealing allegations were not being investigated, prosecuted or taken to court, including one case in which an alleged attacker was allowed to disappear despite DNA evidence being available.
Police denied there were any problems with their investigations but Mr Rau said yesterday he would release a draft of changes to the Evidence Act part 34CA within two months.
The section currently places severe restrictions on the evidence which can be heard in court by the severely disabled and children, which Ms Sudano said had discouraged investigations and prosecutions.
"This is a big challenge but we are working on changes," Mr Rau told The Advertiser.
"The system grapples with coping with people who have limited or diminished capacity. It is extremely complicated between on the one hand letting their evidence come forward and on the other that it is not received uncritically by the jury.
"I'm hopeful we will have a draft Bill in a month or so but it is so complicated we are having trouble even bringing all the government agencies to a point to be comfortable."
Dignity for the Disabled MLC Kelly Vincent welcomed the decision but said more needed to be done, such as better training for police to improve investigations.
"I would still like to see SAPOL have more training and awareness of disability issues, but I am very pleased that something is being done," she said.
Mr Rau said the changes would alter the balance of the Act, so judges would allow the evidence while making specific directions to the jury about how to deal with the information.