Skip to main content

Courts: Victims and Witnesses

Volume 628: debated on Tuesday 5 September 2017

11. What steps the Government are taking to improve the court experience for victims and witnesses. (900674)

We are testing pre-trial cross-examination for child and vulnerable victims and witnesses in the Crown court, and testing this provision for certain eligible intimidated victims in three Crown court centres this autumn. We have installed remote links in each region and recently completed work on model waiting rooms. We recognise that there are concerns about the operation of the victims’ code, and we are considering how compliance might be monitored and improved.

I welcome that answer. Despite the progress that has been made, attending court as a witness, and particularly as a victim, can still be very stressful. Will my hon. Friend enlarge on what steps the Government are taking to ensure that victims and witnesses know what to expect when they attend court, and that they are treated with respect in court and know when they are required?

We want to use technology to assist all witnesses, not just those who are vulnerable and intimidated. That is why we are exploring ways of making best use of technology, such as video links, to allow witnesses to avoid the stress and/or inconvenience of having to be physically present in the courtroom. We also plan to develop an online tool, which will allow witnesses to access information about a case, such as a trial date, quickly and easily.

Research from Victim Support found that more than half of victims have unwanted contact with the defendant at court. How will the Government’s court reforms ensure that separate entrances, waiting rooms and facilities are standard across all criminal courts?

As I am sure my hon. Friend is aware, the Government are investing more than £1 billion to transform and modernise our court systems to make sure they put the needs of victims first. Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service recently established model victim and witness waiting rooms at Nottingham justice centre, Manchester magistrates court, Newcastle Crown court, Liverpool Crown court and Aldershot justice centre, drawing on feedback from the Victims’ Commissioner, the Witness Service and court users.

The Minister will be aware that decisions on the support received by police and crime commissioners to work with victims are often made very late in the financial year. Will he consider three-year-long provision, so that services can be provided more efficiently and with greater stability?

There are areas where PCCs are doing very good work and there are areas where the work is perhaps not as successful. I have announced annual awards only because I want to get to grips with the evidence of what works, so that the money can follow that and we can deliver better services for victims.

Prior to the introduction of the Prisons and Courts Bill in the previous Parliament, no research had been carried out into the effects of virtual justice reforms on witnesses—victims or defendants—or the extent of expected savings. Will the Minister guarantee that research into these key areas will be done and published in advance of the Bill being brought back to the House?

We are consulting a variety of different agencies and the Victims’ Commissioner on the work to which the hon. Lady alludes. We are in the process of testing pre-recorded cross-examination at a number of centres across the country.

I would not want the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) to feel that he was out of the water in some way. I call Mr Marcus Fysh.

22. Justice delayed can be justice denied. It can also be very distressing for victims and witnesses, such as constituents of mine, to suffer repeated delays in the scheduling and notification of hearing dates and the notification of verdicts, which in some cases have even been learnt from the opposing parties. What can be done to improve court processes and timeframes, and their communication? (900686)

All criminal justice agencies are committed to keeping victims and witnesses informed about their cases. The outcomes of cases involving vulnerable victims and witnesses are available in court systems within 24 hours. Professionals who are involved in a case and are present on the day will know the outcome immediately. If my hon. Friend is aware of details of any other cases in which that may not be happening, will he please write to me? I will then respond.