Vulnerable witnesses: Royal Commission innovations and recommendations instigating criminal procedure reforms

Dr Anita Mackay1, Ms Jacqueline Giuffrida

1La Trobe Law School, Bundoora, Australia

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse (RC) was innovative in the way it engaged with vulnerable witnesses, partly because the Royal Commissions Act 1902 (Cth) was amended to facilitate private sessions.  More than 8000 private sessions were held during the RC.  Based on what the RC discovered about the needs of vulnerable witnesses, the RC produced a three-volume Criminal Justice Report (CJR) (2017) outlining concerns about the criminal justice system’s response to child sexual abuse, including institutional child sexual abuse, at the pre-trial, trial and post-trial stages.  The RC’s recommendations about improvements to criminal procedure are leading to a wave of reform around Australia, including the introduction of intermediaries to assist vulnerable witnesses.  This presentation will provide an overview of both the RC innovations and the criminal justice reforms that the CJR has instigated.


Dr Anita Mackay is a lecturer at La Trobe Law School.  Dr Mackay has an interest in how inquisitorial processes, such as Royal Commissions and parliamentary committee inquiries, provide avenues for public participation.  In particular, her research is examining how these processes accommodate the needs of vulnerable witnesses.  In conducting this research Dr Mackay draws on her experience as a legal researcher for a Victorian parliamentary committee, and extensive experience developing government responses to recommendations of inquiry processes from within the public service.


The society is devoted to promoting criminological study, research and practice in the region and bringing together persons engaged in all aspects of the field. The membership of the society reflects the diversity of persons involved in the field, including practitioners, academics, policy makers and students.

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