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Witness Support

Volume 586: debated on Tuesday 14 October 2014

1. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to ensure that adequate provision is made to support vulnerable witnesses in cases of sexual abuse or domestic violence. (905413)

3. What steps the Crown Prosecution Service is taking to ensure that adequate provision is made to support vulnerable witnesses in cases of sexual abuse or domestic violence. (905416)

The Crown Prosecution Service works closely with the police and voluntary sector to ensure that vulnerable victims and witnesses in cases of sexual abuse and domestic violence are well supported. Special measures such as intermediaries, screens and live video links are used to help them give their best evidence in court. Additional support is also available for victims from independent sexual violence advisers and domestic violence advisers who guide them through the criminal justice process.

I am grateful to the Attorney-General for that answer. Two cases of domestic violence in my constituency have come to my attention. Both victims were put through more anguish and turmoil as a result of the support offered by the police, the courts, the voluntary sector and the CPS not being properly joined up—the left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing. Will he confirm that the CPS will work with all other parties to provide seamless and co-ordinated support?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that those services are co-ordinated, and that victims of such offences are taken seriously from the outset, that they are listened to and that they are supported throughout the process, so I take what he says seriously. If he can supply me with details of the cases, I will certainly investigate and see what may have gone wrong.

I commend the work of the Peterborough rape crisis care group based at Rivergate in Peterborough. Will my right hon. and learned Friend join me in welcoming the opening of 15 new rape support centres since 2010? What more can be done to focus efforts on local providers who give help to those who need it most?

I certainly join my hon. Friend in congratulating those who are involved in the work in his constituency. He is right that the voluntary sector has a huge part to play. He will know that the key concern of many who work in this sector is not just the existence of funding but the continuity of funding, which is why we have been keen to give some security to this sector with £40 million of funding for domestic violence more generally over the course of this Government.

Since the publication of the Jay report, a further 29 cases of child abuse have emerged in Rotherham. Given what Professor Jay said about the Crown Prosecution Service and other agencies, how can the Attorney-General reassure the House that everything possible is being done to support those victims and to bring the perpetrators to justice?

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He will understand that, because some of these investigations are ongoing, there is a limit to what I can say about them, but he is right that it is important in cases such as what may have gone on in Rotherham that we take seriously victims of abuse and that we support them throughout the process. He can be assured that we keep a very close eye on these particular prosecutions as they develop and will do everything we can to ensure that they are conducted properly.

Back in November 2013, Keir Starmer, the then Director of Public Prosecutions, launched a protocol under which the police, the social services and prosecutors would work together to share information on child sex abuse cases. What proportion of local authorities in England and Wales have adopted that protocol, and what consideration has the Attorney-General given to making it compulsory?

As the hon. Gentleman may anticipate, I will have to write to him with the figure but I can tell him that we consider the protocol to be very useful. I shall add one of the things that he did not mention to the list of those measures that are important in these cases: to ensure that prosecutors are properly trained and experienced to conduct these kinds of cases. That is precisely why, as he knows, we now have a pool of specialist prosecutors for rape cases and for child sexual abuse cases to ensure that that happens.

Given that the budgets for rape victims have been devolved to police and crime commissioners, what steps can be taken to ring-fence those budgets so that they are there for survivors and victims?

As I suspect the hon. Lady knows, not all of the victims’ budgets are devolved to PCCs, but for that part that is, we need to trust those who are locally elected to understand clearly that the needs of victims must be pre-eminent within the criminal justice system. I think that police and crime commissioners, from whatever party, generally speaking do understand that. I am sure that she will have productive conversations with her own PCC to make sure that that is the case.