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Victims and Witnesses: Court Experience

Volume 632: debated on Tuesday 5 December 2017

We are investing more than £1 billion in our court reform programme to make our justice system more sensitive to victims and witnesses and more accessible to the average citizen.

It is almost a year since I met Jill Saward, who sadly passed away at the beginning of this year. Jill was a tireless campaigner for victims of rape and sexual assault and she led the campaign that brought an end to accused rapists cross-examining victims. Will my hon. Friend outline what progress is being made to extend the law to protect victims of domestic violence during trials in family courts?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for the way in which she has championed this issue and to Jill Saward for her campaigning work. As part of our reform programme, we are rolling out section 28 pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable witnesses in the Crown courts. That will be rolled out initially in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston upon Thames from next year, but the plan is for a national roll-out. We are also committed to extending section 28 to family law cases and we have announced legislation for that purpose in the Queen’s Speech.

The Minister is right that the victims should be central to Government policy. What support is available for both adult and child rape victims after the verdict, and will he outline the process whereby support is offered, regardless of the verdict?

In 2017-18, the Ministry of Justice allocated around £7 million as a contribution to 97 rape support centres across England and Wales to provide independent specialist support. In the same year, we allocated £68 million to police and crime commissioners. The hon. Gentleman raised an important aspect of the support, which remains available to victims after as well as before the conclusion of a trial, regardless of the verdict.

The Minister just said that legislation relating to this matter was outlined in the Queen’s Speech. We are particularly concerned about domestic violence victims in the family courts. When will that legislation be introduced on the Floor of the House?

The announcement was made in the Queen’s Speech. We are looking at the parliamentary timetable and we will be able to say something about that shortly.

Perpetrators of domestic violence can currently commit abuse of process by bringing vexatious court actions against their victims, often cross-examining them in person in civil and family courts. Will the Minister consider introducing legislation on that? When will he do it?

As I have just said, the legislation was announced in the Queen’s Speech. Obviously, we have a packed parliamentary timetable at the moment, with the EU measure and other aspects of that, but we are committed to introducing legislation and we will announce details soon.

Earlier this year, the Secretary of State generously agreed to amend the Courts legislation and introduce primary legislation to outlaw the cross-examination of victims by domestic abuse perpetrators. The principle of using primary legislation to tackle the matter has been agreed. When will he introduce primary legislation to tackle the issue?

As I have already made clear in two answers, we are committed to not only the courts Bill, but that specific reform. I look forward to the full-throated support of the hon. Gentleman and other Opposition Members.