21 Jul 2010

Defence lawyer questions suitability of male judges

5:41 pm on 21 July 2010

Defence lawyer Annette Sykes is sceptical about whether male judges would be suitable for an inquisitorial legal system, in which they would question victims of sexual abuse.

Justice Minister Simon Power is planning to make big changes to the way courts treat some evidence.

Mr Power says a hybrid system used in Austria may have some merit here and work better for child victims and witnesses, as well as victims of sexual abuse.

He says it would mean courts could be more involved in investigating a case, as opposed to the current adversarial system in which the court hears evidence from the prosecution and the defence.

But Ms Sykes says she would be concerned about some male judges being put in an inquisitorial role for abuse cases involving children and women.

She says women's groups have developed processes for interviewing victims and she would be worried about some more dominant male judges being put in the position of interviewing victims.

Rape Prevention Education director Kim McGregor agrees that the gender of the interviewer may increase a victim's anxiety, but says this could be avoided by the way the interviewer questions the victim.