The Evidence (Special Measures) Act was passed in the House of Representatives on Tuesday (December 4), paving the way for the admissibility of evidence via live audio-visual links or video recordings in criminal and civil proceedings and in a coroner's inquest.
Attorney-General, Hon. Patrick Atkinson, who piloted the legislation through the House, noted that the use of television live link will allow the court to receive evidence from witnesses, who are unable to attend the court proceedings and from those who may be regarded as vulnerable, due to the trauma or fear of giving evidence in court.
Through live link technology, the witness will be able to give evidence from a location outside the court, which can be seen and heard at the trial, and also allows the witness to hear and see the members of the court at the time he or she is giving evidence.
“The use of this technology will allow the court to obtain evidence from witnesses, who might otherwise be unavailable and it, thereby, promotes the interest of justice,” Mr. Atkinson said.
The Bill also proposes to allow vulnerable witnesses, in certain circumstances, to give evidence-in-chief by way of a video recording. The witness will still be required to attend court for cross examination. The procedure is particularly useful in cases where the witnesses are children.
The Attorney-General noted that in many instances, several months or years elapse between the offence and the trial, and the memory of a child witness often fades to the point where they no longer accurately remember the details of the traumatic events, which they suffered or witnessed.
"A video recorded interview preserves the witness’ earlier account of the alleged events and allows the court to obtain evidence that, depending on subsequent events, may not be available at the time of trial,” Mr. Atkinson said.
Minister of State in the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining, Hon. Julian Robinson, welcomed the legislation, pointing out that it will prove useful in the fight against the lottery scam.
“We have been challenged in prosecuting those persons, who have been accused of being perpetrators in the lotto scam, principally because the witnesses are abroad and principally because the victims are reluctant, because they don’t want to identify themselves, but also to take the trip here to testify. These persons are primarily retired persons,” Mr. Robinson said.
He added that Bill will go a far way in allowing evidence to be given in a remote manner, which will enable the security forces to successfully prosecute the criminals.
In voicing support, Leader of Opposition Business in the Lower House, Delroy Chuck, said the Bill could be a “game changer for how we operate in the courts."
“In the sense that we can get evidence from persons, who cannot be in Jamaica or who, because of incapacity, illness, or threats, they can be at a police station or somewhere where their evidence can be taken without them having to be physically in court, then you see it can be a game changer,” Mr. Chuck stated.
The Bill was passed without any amendments. It was approved in the Senate on November 23.