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Vulnerable Witnesses

Volume 407: debated on Monday 23 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what measures he has taken to make it easier for vulnerable witnesses to give evidence in court; and if he will make a statement. [118775]

In July 2002 we started a phased implementation of special measures to assist vulnerable or intimidated witnesses to give their best evidence. Vulnerable witness—who are defined by section 16 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 as being persons (not the accused) who are aged under 17 years or whose quality of evidence would be diminished by reasons of a mental disorder, or impairment of intelligence and social functioning, or a physical condition or disorder—can now apply for the following special measures in the Crown Court:

Screens—to ensure that the witness does not see the defendant;
Live TV link—allowing a witness to give evidence from outside the court;
Clearing the court so that evidence can be given in private;
Removal of wigs and gowns in court;
Video recorded evidence in chief—allowing an interview with the witness, which has been video recorded before the trial, to be shown as the witness's evidence in chief; and
Use of communication aids.

The magistrates' courts, implementation has been limited so far to live link and video recorded evidence in chief for witnesses aged under 17 in certain categories of case, including sexual and violence offences. Further rollout of the special measures is planned for 2003–04 following evaluation of the first phase.

Two of the special measures—video recorded pretrial cross-examination and examination of the witness through an intermediary—are novel and complex and will be the subject of pilot projects before they are introduced nationally. Preparations are being made for intermediary pilots to begin later this year. A scoping study on options for piloting video recorded pre-trial cross-examination will be commissioned shortly.