Children and vulnerable victims, who have survived the most horrific crimes, will be offered the chance to avoid what is often a distressing and intimidating court experience by pre-recording both their evidence and any cross-examination for a later trial.
The pilot will be tested in three areas – Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston-upon-Thames – with the intention of rolling it out more widely if it proves a success.
There are already several provisions in place to help victims and witnesses give evidence in court. Children automatically receive special measures – such as giving evidence from behind a screen or giving it via video link – and these are available to other victims and witnesses at a court’s discretion.
However, although judges have the power to intervene to prevent overly aggressive cross-examination and character assassinations, there are growing instances of victims being left traumatised after court cases. There is no limit on the number of lawyers who can cross-examine a victim or witness, or on the amount of time they can be on the stand. Victims and witnesses can also be required to discuss graphic details of crimes such as sexual abuse.
So, working closely with the Judiciary, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service, the Ministry of Justice is commencing Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act.
This will allow all children, and the most vulnerable adult, victims and witnesses to escape being grilled in court, in front of an audience, by recording their cross-examination away from the highly-charged court environment. This would be included in a later trial.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “It is simply not right that young and vulnerable victims are forced to relive the most traumatic experience they have ever had, often for days on end, when cross-examined in court.
“I am adamant we must put a stop to this, but without compromising everyone’s right to a fair trial.”
SOURCE: Family Law