Legislative Council: Tuesday, July 05, 2022


Canine Court Companion

The Hon. R.P. WORTLEY (14:49): My question is to the Attorney-General. Will the Attorney-General inform the council about the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions' new canine court companion?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Attorney-General, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (14:49): I thank the honourable member for his question and his interest in these sorts of areas. I can inform the chamber that I was extremely pleased recently to be able to meet, congratulate and, most importantly, pat and give a hug to the most recent recruit to the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and particularly their court companion program.

Zeb, who I should clarify is a two-year-old labrador, is the new canine court companion whose new job it is to help put vulnerable witnesses and victims at ease as they make their way through the often daunting criminal justice system. Zeb is specially trained by his Guide Dog SA trainer to sit and provide company, comfort and a sense of calm to victims and witnesses of crime, particularly children who may become anxious or distressed in their encounters with the criminal justice system.

Zeb is the second dog to take on this important role after his predecessor Zero, who sadly passed away late in January this year and who was South Australia's inaugural canine court companion. Since starting his paw patrol in March 2019, Zero accompanied more than 300 child and adolescent victims and witnesses who were involved in the criminal justice system. Having an opportunity to spend some time with Zeb recently, I certainly felt the calming effects that his company brings and can only imagine how much he would raise the spirits and soothe anyone going through the stress of a criminal court system as a victim or witness.

Zeb is now a few months into his on-the-job training, which includes becoming comfortable with his work environment, and will be ready for in courtroom hearings, I am informed, by the end of this year. I am very excited to hear reports back from the DPP that once Zeb commences his full-time role he will make a remarkable impact on vulnerable witnesses and victims experiencing the legal system.

I would like to thank Guide Dogs SA for the work that they do and Zeb, the new canine court companion, for the important work he has started to undertake and that he will engage in over the next year or so. Speaking to Aaron Chia, the Chief Executive Officer of Guide Dogs SA/NT, he was able to inform me that Zeb has a very relaxed demeanour and will be a calming influence for children and others who need support when participating in the South Australian criminal justice system.

As I have said, Guide Dogs SA/NT does remarkable work in training dogs to support people with all kinds of needs, and it's greatly appreciated the role that Guide Dogs SA/NT has played in training Zeb for the important role he is undertaking in his career at the DPP.