Ministry of Justice
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Greater choice for vulnerable witnesses
Introducing greater choice on how young people give evidence in court is among proposals published today that place victims and witnesses at the heart of the Criminal Justice System.
Giving evidence in court can be a daunting task for children and young people, particularly when it is against people they know, including family members. A third of witnesses would not have been able or willing to give evidence if special measures were not available to help them through the process.
The Government is committed to improving the criminal justice process for victims and witnesses by building on existing initiatives that make young witnesses feel more comfortable giving evidence in court including: Witness Care Units, the Intermediaries scheme and the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime that ensure their needs are identified and met.
Measures being considered include the use of video recorded pre-trial cross-examination for a small number of the most vulnerable young witnesses; enhanced use of technology such as remote live links and concealing the visual image of some children to protect them whilst they give evidence.
Other measures in the consultation are;
- Greater choice for young witnesses in how they give evidence (not assuming they would always prefer to give evidence away from the court room);
- Guidance on pre-trial therapy and counselling;
- Special procedures for vulnerable defendants to ensure they can participate effectively in their trials, including the use of intermediaries
- Delay in proceedings;
- Standards of cross-examination and other matters relating to current practice including the early identification of witness needs;
- Enhancement of the current special measures provisions to address witness concerns.
Launching the consultation today, Justice Minister Gerry Sutcliffe said;
"Giving evidence in court can be an onerous undertaking for many children and young people which is why we are determined to give young victims and witnesses the support and access to justice that they need.
We need to listen to young people and find out their opinions as to what will improve the criminal justice process for them. This consultation builds on the work we have already delivered to ensure young and vulnerable witnesses feel able to give their best evidence in an environment that is comfortable to them."
Notes to Editors
1. The consultation paper, 'Improving the Criminal Trial process for Young Witnesses', is available at http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/newsrelease220607a.htm
2. Hamlyn, Phelps, Turtle and Sattar, Are special measures working? Evidence from surveys of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses (London: Home Office Research Study No 283 (June 2004) available at http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs04/hors283.pdf)
3. The national roll-out of intermediaries scheme was announced Thursday 14 June. Link to the press notice available at http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/newsrelease120607b.htm