60 Children’s Legal Rights Journal [Vol. 36: 1 2016]
A witness screen is an aid to shield a testifying child from seeing the accused in the
courtroom. The most common device is a one-way screen where the witness sees only the screen
itself. Other arrangements include configuring the courtroom so there is a physical barrier to block
the child’s view of the accused during their testimony or using a screened off area designed for
sensitive testimonies. Canadian child witnesses were first allowed to use witness screens in 1988.
This authorization was expanded by the 1993 decision of R. v. Levogiannis, in which the Supreme
Court of Canada ruled that the use of witness screens was constitutional and did not per se interfere
with the administration of justice. In some instances, witnesses said that the mere knowledge that
the accused could see them was upsetting and that other means of testifying were desired. The
witness screen thus shields testifying children from seeing the accused, including their facial
expressions and movements, while they are testifying and avoids many visual related issues.
Closed Circuit Television and Video Recorded Testimony
Legislatively available since 1988, Canadian courthouses also utilize closed circuit
television (“CCTV”) for child witness testimony. CCTV is utilized in one of three forms: ( 1) a
CCTV system integrated into the infrastructure of the building at the time of design and
construction; ( 2) a CCTV system retrofitted into the building or; ( 3) portable systems brought in
as needed. Advances in technology have led to improved CCTV systems that are more user
friendly with decreased costs. The availability of portable systems means this aid may be used
from nearly anywhere in Canada.
Video recorded testimony, that is, testimony videotaped earlier and played at trial without
the child taking the stand, is used more regularly in Canada today. Technological advances such
as the Internet, intranet systems, video-conferencing, and satellite transmission, have made video
recorded testimony a popular option for Canadian courts. Despite some opposition, supporters of
video recorded testimony maintain that a child’s testimony is not more or less likely to infer guilt
because of testimony via video instead of in person. Although less popular in Edmonton, with a
usage rate of 25%, video recorded testimony seems to be very popular in Toronto, with a usage
rate of 91%.
UN Model Law
United Nations (“U.N.”) model laws are a set of standards and norms promulgated by the
U.N. that are internationally recognized and represent best practices based on the consensus of
contemporary knowledge and relevant international and regional norms, standards and principles.
Canada’s progressive policies for handling children testimony allowed them to be integral
in the adoption of the United Nations’ “Guidelines on Justice in Matters Involving Child Victims
and Witnesses of Crime” (“U.N. Child Witness Model Law”) in 2009. This model law has been
adopted by progressive nations like Canada, Sweden, Italy, and Austria, yet has not been adopted
by the United States. The U.N. Child Witness Model Law was adopted with the aim of, amongst
other things, assisting in the design and review of national laws to ensure full respect for the rights
of child victims and witnesses. The U.N. Child Witness Model Law is geared to a varied audience
of stakeholders in children’s rights, including governments, international organizations, public
agencies and community based organizations.