A child-friendly space for children giving evidence in the Whangarei Law Courts - the first of its type in the country - will contribute towards making the environment less stressful for them, Northland's Crown solicitor says.
Crown Prosecutor Mike Smith said the child-friendly space was made possible through collaboration between his office, Victim Support, lawyers and court staff, with assistance from the business community.
He was reacting to an announcement this week by Justice Minister Amy Adams who applauded the new initiative for children giving evidence in Whangarei courts. Previously the room was used for people to give evidence via video conferencing, and was a standard meeting room with a large table and video conferencing equipment. Now the room has been given a splash of colour and old board games have been updated with an X-box and TV alongside toys and books, courtesy of fundraising and donations from the local community and businesses.
Judges and lawyers visit the room to meet children in person before their appearance via CCTV. In the first six months of this year, 24 vulnerable witnesses, mainly children, gave evidence from the room.
Mr Smith said giving evidence was never easy and anything done to make the process less stressful would help.
"In Northland courts, we strive to make a witness as [comfortable] as possible and the room is one of a number of initiatives to achieve that. It's about getting the best evidence and if people are scared, nervous, or vulnerable they can't give the best evidence," he said.
Mr Smith said a number of good things such as court education, steps to reduce waiting times, and different modes of giving evidence have been going on for some time in Whangarei court and the child-friendly space was one of them.
The Minister said it was important the justice system was accessible for all, including children swept up in cases through no fault of their own.
"Justice is about people and this is a great example of putting the needs of the vulnerable first. It's particularly important that children can trust that the system will support them."