Trial For Crime Victims To Give Evidence Anonymously Begins
Children and vulnerable adults will be able to give evidence and face cross-examination in court via a video recording, under a trial beginning in parts of England today.
The new methods under the pilot scheme are intended to spare vulnerable victims the trauma of reliving their ordeal under the intense scrutiny of a courtroom. It will also allow victims to document their testimony soon after the incident occurs, rather than forcing them to relive distressing memories months later when the trial itself begins.
The scheme has been launched by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling in response to recent cases in which victims of crime have been traumatised by the questioning they have faced in court, particularly child victims of sexual abuse.
Francis Andrade, 48 , who was sexually abused by her music teacher as a child, told a friend that being cross-examined in court made her feel as though she had been “raped all over again”. Francis committed suicide days after her appearance in court, before her former music teacher was sentenced.
Javed Khan, chief of the charity Victim Support, warned that children were often “thrown to the wolves in court”, particularly victims of sexual abuse. “Are we really waiting for a child witness to kill themselves before we accept that the adversarial culture of our courtrooms is wrong?” he asked.
The six-month scheme will be initially introduced in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston-upon-Thames – if considered successful, the scheme will be rolled out across the rest of England and Wales.
“The particularly hostile treatment of victims and witnesses in court has nothing to do with fairness or justice,” said Mr Grayling. “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.”
DPP: Vulnerability can no longer be barrier to justice
New guidelines for prosecutors on how to tackle cases involving child sexual abuse will help protect the most vulnerable victims, said the Director of Public Prosecutions.
Keir Starmer QC said:
These guidelines are informed by those involved in protecting children. They are intended to spell out a different approach to prosecuting these very difficult cases.
In particular, the guidelines make clear that the focus for prosecutors must be on the credibility of the allegation being made.
Vulnerability can no longer be a barrier to justice and I want to see prosecutors actively challenging any misconceptions a jury might have.
– KEIR STARMER, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC PROSECUTIONS