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Court Facilities

Volume 448: debated on Tuesday 11 July 2006

There are 93 Crown courts, 88 of which of have dedicated witness facilities. Of the 355 magistrates courts, 302 can provide dedicated facilities for witnesses and victims.

One of the successes of the domestic violence court pilots was that better facilities for witnesses and victims improved people’s experience of the system. Will my right hon. and learned Friend elaborate on any plans that the Department might have to roll the provision out further and to invest in more facilities throughout the court system?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. In the past, no one was surprised that many domestic violence cases did not stay the course. Abused wives and girlfriends did not give evidence because that meant that they had to sit in the court waiting area, opposite the defendant and all his friends and relatives. The introduction of proper facilities for victims and witnesses is long overdue, especially as they are often intimidated. We are therefore planning to roll out the provision across England and Wales.

Is my right hon. and learned Friend planning to admit journalists to family courts? If so, will she assure the House that victims and witnesses waiting for their cases to come up will not face unwanted approaches from journalists?

My hon. Friend will know that we are consulting on how to ensure not only that justice is done in family courts, but that it is seen to be done. We want those courts to be more open and accountable, and we are proposing to allow the press in, subject to reporting restrictions. Hon. Members are welcome to engage in the consultation, but we are concerned to ensure that people waiting to give evidence in family courts are property protected, and not hassled by journalists.