My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Gerry Sutcliffe) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.
The Government are committed to ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society have access to justice and the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provides for a number of measures to assist vulnerable or intimidated witnesses give their best evidence in court. Section 29 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 provides for the examination of a witness to be conducted through an intermediary approved by the court to help the witness communicate with the police, legal representatives and the court.
The intermediary provision has been implemented in six pathfinder criminal justice areas—Merseyside, Thames Valley, West Midlands, South Wales, Norfolk and Devon and Cornwall with the aim of establishing a model for national implementation. Two further areas, Leicestershire and Derbyshire, formalised their use of the scheme in spring 2007.
The operation of the pathfinders has been independently evaluated and the findings show that almost everyone who has encountered the work of intermediaries has been impressed with the service that they provide. The research also highlights a number of emerging benefits, including the potential to assist in bringing offenders to justice, increased access to justice, and assistance in identifying the needs of vulnerable witnesses.
In view of the successful operation of the intermediary pathfinders, the Government have decided to begin phased national rollout of the provision from September 2007.
The research findings on the intermediary pathfinder evaluation will be published today. Copies have been made available in the Libraries of both Houses, the Vote Office and Printed Paper Office. Copies are also available from the Ministry of Justice website at www.justice.gov.uk/publications/research.htm.