The ACT's victims of crime commissioner, director of public prosecutions and chief magistrate are backing moves to reduce the trauma for sexually abused children giving evidence in court.
The government is considering introducing a witness intermediary scheme, a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.
The move is also backed by the Domestic Violence Prevention Council, which released a report on Friday in which one of the key findings was to introduce a trial of the scheme.
A forum will be held in Canberra on Thursday with NSW and Victorian experts. The states are piloting similar schemes. The pilot in NSW involves child witnesses of sexual abuse. In Victoria it also includes people with cognitive impairment or communication difficulties.
District Court Justice Kate Traill is one of two judges involved in the pilot scheme in NSW.
"We've had some amazing results. We've had children as young as three give really clear evidence," Judge Traill said.
In NSW, a witness intermediary, like a psychologist or speech pathologist, is matched with a child at the order of the court. The intermediary interviews the child, without talking about the evidence, and provides a report to the court.
Judge Traill said, for example, if a child has anxiety a recommendation from the report could be to provide play-doh, a stress ball, or in some cases use a therapy dog to assist the child.
"The witness intermediary might recommend the judge doesn't wear a wig or gown, and the barristers be called by their first names. Or the witness intermediary might say the child has a short attention span, and recommend breaks every 10-15 minutes."
The witness intermediary sits next to the child while giving evidence, and if they don't think the child understands the question they raise their hand and suggest rephrasing.
Judge Traill said it would benefit the community to have more people having access to witness intermediaries.
"I think they're invaluable in all different areas," she said.
"I think once people see it and realise that, it is really a no brainer."
ACT Victims of Crime commissioner Heidi Yates is calling for the introduction of the scheme in Canberra to improve access to justice outcomes.
"Noting the government's in-principle support for the recommendation from the Royal Commission, I believe it would be useful for the ACT to roll out intermediaries in the first instance in a similar way to NSW," Ms Yates said.
It could then be expanded to include people with cognitive impairment or communication difficulties, she said, to ensure accurate and coherent evidence is provided to the court.
The evaluation of the NSW program has found that the use of an intermediary doesn't impinge on the rights of the accused in relation to a fair trial, Ms Yates said.
ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Jon White supported the scheme being rolled out more broadly, not only to children but to people with cognitive impairment.
“The introduction of intermediaries will mean evidence of children can be taken in a way which reflects the level of understanding of the child witness, and their level of development, but age appropriate questions," Mr White said.
"The use of intermediaries for the cognitively impaired will allow the voice of such witnesses to be properly heard. That is not happening now.”
Chief Magistrate Lorraine Walker said she was absolutely open to the idea.
"When you're dealing with children or other vulnerable people in a formal environment it's sometimes difficult to reconcile their appreciation of what's going on for what's needed for the court process," Ms Walker said.
Ms Walker said an intermediary had been used at least once in the ACT, in a case involving cognitively impaired people.
A spokeswoman for ACT Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said the government was investigating the idea.