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Vulnerable Witnesses

Volume 637: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2018

3. What assessment his Department has made of the time taken to bring to court criminal cases involving vulnerable witnesses. (904189)

I understand that the hon. Gentleman has a great interest in this area and did a lot of work when he was the police and crime commissioner of Greater Manchester, calling for a review of how victims and witnesses are treated in the criminal justice system. It is right that cases come to court as quickly as possible, and timeliness in the criminal courts system is improving. The average mean number of days from listing to completion is down from 33 in 2015 to 27 in the third quarter of 2017. Unfortunately, as he will know, there are particular challenges in relation to sex offences, where it does take longer for cases to come to court.

The Minister is absolutely right that there are complexities in cases of, for example, child sexual abuse or rape. Nevertheless, constant, even legitimate, adjournments in cases can lead to months of delay. Sometimes, it takes years before victims come to court. Victims who are already traumatised by what has happened to them deserve better than to be traumatised by the process. Can we make them a priority?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that we need to be extremely careful with vulnerable witnesses and witnesses in sex cases and ensure that they get justice. We are bringing in and rolling out measures on the taking of their evidence to ensure that they can do that pre-trial and therefore safely, which will speed up justice. As the hon. Gentleman knows and as the Secretary of State has mentioned, we are hoping to introduce the courts Bill, which will ensure the streamlining of justice and do away with unnecessary hearings. Hopefully, that will speed up access to justice.

Will the Minister further outline what training lawyers receive in the handling of vulnerable witnesses? Does the Department intend to make updates to such training compulsory?

In the family court, all judges have training on dealing with vulnerable witnesses. I am sure that the Crown Prosecution Service has training as well.