A pilot scheme which allows victims and witnesses to give evidence ahead of criminal trials starts tomorrow at a court which hears Huddersfield cases.
The most vulnerable people involved in the courts process will be able to give their evidence and be cross-examined away from the intense atmosphere of a live courtroom at Leeds Crown Court in an attempt to spare them what could be aggressive questioning in front of jury, judge and their alleged attacker.
The Government is initially trying the new approach in three courts with the aim of rolling it out more widely if successful.
People who may find it difficult to give their best possible evidence in a courtroom environment and all child victims will be considered for pre-trial cross-examination in the pilot areas which are Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston-upon-Thames crown court which will be testing the new scheme for six months.
This will allow them to give their evidence and be cross-examined by both prosecution and defence barristers ahead of the trial in front of a judge, and then it is shown to the jury as part of the trial.
Victims’ Minister Damian Green said: “It is crucial that people who have experienced or reported horrific crimes are given the highest possible level of protection and support. I am determined their needs will be put first.
“It is vital the right to a fair trial is upheld. As part of that, if someone is accused of a crime they should be brought to justice as swiftly as possible.
“If you have experienced a horrendous crime, giving evidence in the pressured environment of a live courtroom, in front of the jury and the public gallery, can be intimidating and perhaps too much to ask.
“That’s why we are trying a new approach, the first of its kind, which prioritises the victim.”
Before this, victims and witnesses could only be cross-examined in court during the trial, although provisions existed to support those deemed vulnerable, such as giving evidence from behind a screen or via a video link.
Adam Pemberton, assistant chief executive at Victim Support, said: “We welcome these pilots because repeated, aggressive questioning of vulnerable witnesses in a packed courtroom cannot be the best way to obtain sound and accurate evidence.
“More importantly, it is not the right way to protect vulnerable victims and witnesses from what can often be a distressing and traumatic experience.
“Victims and witnesses are entitled to a fair trial as well as defendants and we believe pre-recorded evidence taken in a less intense environment and when events are fresher in the mind will help level the playing field.
“However, it remains critical that vulnerable and intimidated witnesses get specialist help and support throughout the criminal justice process too.”
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