Royal Commission into the Protection and
Detention of Children in the Northern Territory

 Protecting vulnerable witnesses

Who was a vulnerable witness?

Vulnerable witnesses were:

  • People under 21 years old
  • Anyone who is or was in detention
  • Anyone who is or was in care, and
  • People with mental illness or a cognitive disability.

Other people could also ask the Royal Commission to treat them as a vulnerable witness.

How did vulnerable witnesses give information to the Royal Commission?

There were a number of ways vulnerable witnesses can give information to the Royal Commission:

  • Group consultations – vulnerable witnesses and their families met in groups to discuss their experiences. The information in these meetings helped the Commission identify issues it needed to investigate. The Commission kept the identity of people in the group and the things they discussed confidential.
  • Informal statements – vulnerable witnesses wrote or recorded a statement about their experience to help the Commission identify issues it needed to investigate. The Commission wrote this statement down or recorded it for the witness if they preferred. The Commission kept the identity of the person making the statement and the content of the statement confidential.
  • Formal statements – These are formal, signed statements that usually became evidence in the Royal Commission. Vulnerable witnesses made these statements in writing or recorded on video. These statements were usually made public but the identity of the person making the statement and sensitive or personal information were kept confidential.
  • Appearing at a hearing – vulnerable witnesses gave evidence to the Royal Commission at  hearings. Vulnerable witnesses were assessed by a doctor, psychologist or counsellor to make sure they could give evidence safely and they had the support and protection they needed when they gave their evidence. The evidence of a vulnerable witness was usually given in 'closed' court meaning that only the Commissioners, lawyers and Commission staff were in the room. The witness could also nominate their own support people to attend. People over 18 could ask to give their evidence in open court, which means the public could attend and the evidence was streamed on the Commission's website.

Will the information I gave the Royal Commission be kept confidential?

The Royal Commission protected the identity of vulnerable witnesses and the information they gave to the Commission.

Information given to the Royal Commission by a vulnerable witness in a group consultation or in an informal statement has been kept confidential.

If a vulnerable witness gave information in a formal statement or in hearing, the Royal Commission worked with the witness or their lawyer to determine what information would be kept private.

The Royal Commission had a legal obligation to pass on information about child abuse or family violence or information that a person is about to be harmed.

For more information please read our Vulnerable Witness Policy [PDF 271KB] and the Practice Guidelines.