Vulnerable individuals now have the option to pre-record evidence in all Crown courts across England and Wales in the latest government move to relieve pressure on victims of crime.
From today, vulnerable alleged victims and witnesses such as children or people with disabilities will be able to pre-record cross-examination evidence to avoid the stress of addressing a full courtroom. Cross-examinations are video-recorded as close to the time of the offence as possible, and defence and prosecution lawyers, the judge and the defendant are present in court during the recording.
More than 350 victims and witnesses have used the technology since regional rollouts began earlier this year. According to the Ministry of Justice, feedback from the courts shows that victims felt less stressed and that witnesses were better able to recall events.
Vulnerable witnesses and victims are defined as all child witnesses under 18 and any witness whose quality of evidence is likely to be diminished due to a mental disorder or physical disability, or whose intelligence and social functioning is significantly impaired. The decision to pre-record evidence is made by judges on a case-by-case basis.
Justice minister Alex Chalk MP said: ‘The court process can be a harrowing experience for vulnerable victims and witnesses. This technology seeks to minimise stress and ensure they can provide their best evidence, without reducing a defendant’s right to a fair trial.’
Andrew Penhale, chief crown prosecutor, added: ‘The CPS is very conscious that being cross-examined at trial is particularly difficult for children and other vulnerable witnesses, many of whom have been exposed to very distressing and unpleasant crimes. Waiting for the trial process can inevitably add to their anxiety so the fact this measure can significantly reduce the time they have to wait to give evidence will make a huge difference. In the current circumstances, we know reducing delay is more important than ever.’
The Ministry of Justice is also trialling a scheme which allows alleged victims of sexual and slavery offences to pre-record cross-examination evidence. In Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston upon Thames, witnesses who feel intimidated in cases relating to sexual and modern-day slavery offences can record their cross-examination evidence before trials start.
The government said the measure could be introduced at other courts, subject to evaluation.