Video link-ups in Qld courts to cut costs, reduce delays
REGIONAL courtrooms around Queensland will have more expert witnesses testifying via telephone or video conferencing after changes to criminal legislation.
Flying and accommodating witnesses for court cases across the state costs taxpayers an average $1.45 million each year but the move is expected to shave the costs for expert witnesses from that total.
Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie said he would introduce a mandate in Queensland Parliament on Thursday to allow expert witnesses to give video evidence from anywhere in the world.
The rebuttable presumption they will give testimony in this way is the reverse of the current situation where prosecution and defence must apply for witnesses.
"I know of one doctor in a public hospital in Brisbane who was flown to a regional courthouse on about three occasions all to be told when he was sitting in the expert witness box that the court was going to be adjourned for a later date," he said.
"The trouble we've had, of course, is that hospital admissions, hospital surgeries are delayed because these people are giving their expert testimony to the court.
"It could be things like doctors giving advice on people who are the victims of one punch can kill or cowardly punches.
"It's important for our regional courts to make sure justice can be delivered.
"It will essentially be mandated that when expert witnesses give testimony they'll be able to do it from telephone or video conferencing facilities whether that be from their home, from their office that might be a hospital, or from their office space."
Chief Justice Paul de Jersey said the technology would benefit witnesses even in remote parts of the state, noting there were about 160 installations in courtrooms in Queensland.
"The benefits are obvious but extraordinary ... in terms of convenience to people, the lack of disruption to court proceedings and cost," he said.
Justice de Jersey said he had a forensic pathologist from San Francisco give evidence about an autopsy via video technology in a murder trial in Brisbane recently.
"It went without hitch … it was frankly as if she were in the courtroom in person," he said.
Mr Bleijie said he believed the majority of expert witnesses were required because "that's just been the normal practice over time".
He said judges could still order an expert's presence if he believed they should be in the courtroom.
In response to a question, Mr Bleijie said he did not think it would open the door to more appeals because the jury could not assess the demeanour of the witness properly.
He said they were not on trial, they were there to provide expert advice to jury or judge.
Mr Bleijie said the legislation change would relate only to expert witnesses for now but he saw this as a general trend towards matters and people being heard from video conferencing facilities rather than attending court.
This amendment will be bundled under the criminal law legislation together with double jeopardy laws allowing prosecutors to again go after people acquitted of serious charges such as murder.