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Vulnerable Witnesses

Volume 616: debated on Thursday 27 October 2016

2. What steps the Government are taking to ensure that vulnerable victims and witnesses are enabled to give effective evidence. (906824)

Vulnerable victims and witnesses can already give evidence from behind a screen or via a video link. In addition, having piloted pre-trial cross examination, which allows vulnerable witnesses to pre-record all their evidence ahead of the trial, we will be rolling it out nationally.

I thank the Minister for that reply. What special arrangements are there to support vulnerable children and under-age witnesses, in particular in cases of abuse or of a sexual nature?

My hon. Friend is right that those witnesses are of particular concern. I am sure she will be pleased to learn that those kind of witnesses will particularly benefit from pre-recorded cross examination; where it has been trialled—we have trialled it in three court centres so far—about three quarters of the cases have been cases of a sexual nature, and most of the witnesses have been children.

Does the Attorney General agree that we have to address the issue of having to go to court for initial proceedings, where victims may come face to face with the accused at a very early stage? Victims feel fear when facing the accused. Will he outline what will be in place to help them?

The hon. Gentleman is right that that is a serious concern for many of those involved in these kinds of cases. That is precisely why the measures I have described are of benefit. If all of a witness’s evidence is pre-recorded, they will not come face to face with the defendant at all. That is a huge benefit.

With the rise of social media, victims and, in particular, witnesses fear intimidation from the online community. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take into consideration protections in the digital space as well as the physical courtroom?

Yes, indeed—my hon. Friend makes an important point. We have to deal with a context that is very different from anything we have experienced before. It is important for people to understand that social media is not ungoverned space. The law applies there as it does elsewhere. If those using social media engage in behaviour that would otherwise be criminal, they will find it is criminal there, too.

I thank the Attorney General for outlining protection for vulnerable victims in the criminal courts. What progress has been made in providing special protection measures for vulnerable victims within family courts?

We need to look carefully at how we might read across some of the things that are clearly working well in the criminal courts to other types of court. The hon. Lady is right to highlight that. There is huge scope for us to understand more about how people can give their best evidence. That, after all, is what court systems of all kinds should be looking for.