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Criminal Proceedings: Delays

Volume 558: debated on Tuesday 5 February 2013

5. What recent assessment he has made of the level of delay in criminal proceedings involving vulnerable witnesses. (141244)

We want the criminal justice system to move faster, and deliver justice sooner for vulnerable witnesses and victims. We are looking at how to tackle delays across the criminal justice system to improve efficiency.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Victims of child sexual exploitation, already traumatised by their horrific experience, face gruelling cross-examination in court, often by multiple defence lawyers, in the process of justice. Does she agree that justice for those vulnerable witnesses is not served by lengthy adjournments—I am glad that she does—and that having specialist training in tackling child sexual exploitation would help judges better to balance the needs of victims and the accused in court proceedings?

I fully understand and sympathise greatly with what the hon. Lady has said, and I agree with her that concerns can affect a witness’s willingness to participate in the criminal justice system. That is why the Ministry of Justice is embarking on a strategy to improve efficiency and the effectiveness of the system. That work will look at the entire process, from offence to completion of the case. I have recently written to her about a case in her constituency. I hope she has received that letter and I am happy to meet her to provide further reassurance.

Does the Minister agree that the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provides the right special measures to support vulnerable and intimidated witnesses so that they can give the best evidence possible?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. I would also add that the special procedure measures that are now available in the form of pre-trial familiarisation visits, support from the witness service, separate entrances, exits and waiting areas, and access to a live link can help to reduce the stress and anxiety of going to court. We are considering what more we can do to improve support, including using new technology to change how evidence is given.

The Minister said in her recent interview with The Times that she believes that the new Victims Commissioner

“feels a wonderful opportunity…to see victims put at the heart of the justice system”.

Is that why the Victims Commissioner will do only 10 days a month and why, two months after the announcement, she still has not started? Is the Minister not guilty yet again of failing victims of crime?

The Victims Commissioner is a very able woman who is able to multitask, like many of us. We have had a number of meetings with her and she, like me, wants to put victims and vulnerable witnesses at the heart of the criminal justice system, where they belong. We are prioritising victims of serious crimes, victims who are persistently targeted and the most vulnerable victims so that they get the support and care they need.