Skip to main content

Vulnerable Witnesses

Volume 600: debated on Thursday 15 October 2015

5. What steps he plans to take to protect child witnesses in sex abuse and other cases from intimidation during cross- examination. (901580)

11. What recent steps the Crown Prosecution Service has taken to improve its engagement with and support for vulnerable witnesses. (901587)

The defence case has to be put to all prosecution witnesses, but in order to ensure effective cross-examination, a mandatory advocacy course for all defence advocates is being developed and will include the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses. Pre-recorded cross-examination has already been piloted successfully, and we are committed to a national roll-out.

In 2011, at Stafford Crown court, a victim of child abuse was cross-examined in a vicious and intimidatory way for 12 days by a team of seven barristers, during a session in which the judge was generally thought to have lost control of the courtroom. Such cross-examination is a massive disincentive for others to come forward. Four years later, may I ask what steps have been taken to prevent it from happening again?

I well remember that case. The good news is that in the retrial matters were handled very differently, and the outcome was successful. However, intimidatory cross-examination should not happen. Judges have a duty to ensure that young witnesses are not cross-examined inappropriately. As I have said, a new advocacy course is being developed to ensure that that sort of abuse does not happen again.

Will the Solicitor General tell us what the CPS is doing to help vulnerable witnesses, such as victims of human trafficking, to give evidence in courts?

Recently, the CPS drew up new guidelines for the care of witnesses in court. Those guidelines are currently being piloted and will be rolled out nationally in the new year. They will go a long way towards supporting witnesses, while avoiding the dangers of coaching witnesses in the giving of evidence, which, of course, would not be desirable.

In the last few years, it has become clear that a great many young people have been sexually abused over a number of years and are traumatised by that abuse. Can the Solicitor General assure the House that the necessary resources are available so that the young people in all those cases can be looked after?

I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. As I have said many times before, when it comes to the protection of vulnerable witnesses and complainants in criminal cases, the CPS is always working to improve its processes so that the experience can be as smooth as possible. What we do not want is a repeat, in effect, of the abuse that those people originally suffered when they come to court and give evidence.

14. Operation Bullfinch, in Oxford, introduced a number of radically different procedures for coping with vulnerable witnesses. What lessons have been learnt from that? (901590)

I know that my hon. Friend has a long-standing interest in improving the processes as a result of that case, which helped to revolutionise the way in which the investigatory authorities all work together. There have been a number of other successful investigations in his own police area, which are helping to improve national practice, and there is a much greater understanding across the country of the way in which such cases can be effectively prosecuted.