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Victims and Witnesses: Court Experience

Volume 637: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2018

4. What steps his Department is taking to improve the court experience for victims and witnesses. (904190)

We are committed to improving the experiences of those who have become victims of crime, which is why, by the summer, we will publish our victims strategy, a key aspect of which is how we can improve support for victims as they interact with the criminal justice system.

I welcome the steps the Government have taken. Does my hon. Friend agree that the video hearing system and other new technologies have the potential not only to improve victims’ experience in court but to increase court capacity?

My hon. Friend is right. Ensuring that victims of crime are able to give evidence in the easiest possible way is among our highest priorities. The roll-out of new video and audio technology will ensure that courts and their work loads are managed more efficiently.

The serious case review of the appalling sexual abuse of girls and vulnerable adults in Newcastle was published last month. Although it generally praised the actions of local authorities, the police and so on, it also raised significant concerns about how the victims of these appalling crimes were supported and the way they were made to relive harrowing experiences. Will the Minister be responding directly to the Spicer review’s recommendations?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. The Department is of course aware of that serious case review of the sexual exploitation of children. The details are shocking. Like all the agencies involved, we are looking into ways to continuously improve our service. I shall write to the hon. Lady about whether we will respond directly to that review.

Is the Minister aware of new regulations that the Scottish Government are introducing to exempt domestic abuse victims, recipients of crisis welfare support and those on low incomes from civil court fees? What discussions is he having with the Scottish Government about what lessons he might learn from that process?

We have plenty to learn from what is happening in Scotland with regard to the way we deal with women who are victims of domestic abuse, and indeed offenders who have been victims of domestic abuse. As the Justice Minister with responsibility for the devolved Administrations, my discussions continue regularly. I look forward to learning from Scotland in future.

The Government had plans to legislate to ban alleged domestic abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts. Is that still Government policy? If so, when will such a provision be put before the House? Every day that there is a delay, more vulnerable people get tormented in court.

The right hon. Gentleman is spot on in his analysis. The abuse and coercion of females, invariably by males, through the court process is wrong and not acceptable. We will bring forward details on how we intend to address that in the Bill that is coming later this year.

The court experience can be a bewildering one—it can often feel like a different planet. That is not helped by the fact that 72% of court judges are men. It is International Women’s Day on Thursday; will the Government commit to a timetable to ensure that 50% of court judges are women?

The hon. Lady points to something with which I would agree. It would be appropriate if the number of women in that position in our society was greater. I am supporting International Women’s Day by visiting HMP Bronzefield on Thursday evening. I cannot commit to a timetable—the hon. Lady knows that—but I will certainly take away her suggestion.