Crime: Police join video nation to aid justice

Plans for greater use of video recordings in court are being considered by the Government. The chief police officers' new president talks to Jason Bennetto, Crime Correspondent, about how to improve the criminal justice system.
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The Independent Online
Witnesses, vulnerable victims and suspects will give more evidence on video recordings in court under proposals being considered by chief constables and the Home Office.

The police could carry out recordings at the scene of a crime and during interviews in custody, under the plans.

The shift towards greater use of video evidence is one of the changes being considered in the court system at the moment, the forthcoming president of the Association of Chief Police Officer's has revealed in an interview with The Independent.

David Blakey, 53, Chief Constable of West Mercia, has also backed changes in the way rape victims are treated in court and reform of the police disciplinary system to make it easier to sack corrupt police officers.

He disclosed that ACPO was carrying out talks with the Home Office, Crown Prosecution Service and the Lord Chancellor's Department about changing the law to allow greater use of video evidence in court.

He said that statements on video could give juries a better idea of the details of the crime and its circumstances. They can also protect vulnerable people, such as victims of sexual violence.

Any change is likely to need legislation and would need to include safeguards to prevent anyone manipulating or editing the video tape to give a false impression.

He gave the example of video taping witnesses to a robbery at a petrol station.

He added: "With certain witnesses it would help with immediacy and give the true account.

"With suspects being interviewed it would give a better picture of what was happening in the [custody] room."

At the moment video evidence, including cross examinations, are usually used only for children.

At least four police forces - West Mercia, the Metropolitan police, West Midlands and Kent - already video interviews with suspects, but this is rarely used in court.

Police chiefs are also to press for changes in the law to allow juries to hear more details of previous convictions of defendants, particularly in cases involving repeat crimes such as serial rapists, robberies, and fraud in which offences are carried out in a similar method, added Mr Blakey.

The Chief Constable, who joined the police as a cadet and has been in the service for 34 years, takes on the influential role of ACPO president next month. Considered a quiet but authoritative figure he is expected to adopt a problem- solving approach to police issues in the coming year.

On the question of police corruption, Mr Blakey, while stressing that he believes only a tiny minority of officers are involved in law breaking, believes changes are needed to the disciplinary system to make it easier to sack officers.

At present to dismiss an officer evidence that proves "beyond reasonable doubt" that they are guilty is needed - a far higher standard than in civil cases or industrial tribunals.

Mr Blakey said: "Why should police officers be different from other people in the country.

"I think we are moving down the path where we need a fair but faster disciplinary system." Any attempt to shift the burden of proof will be strongly opposed by lower ranks.

On changes in the way rape victims are dealt with Mr Blakey supports extending the use of screens to shield women and live video links. He also wants an end to alleged rapists being allowed to cross-examine their victim in court. The Home Office is currently carrying out a review into the issue.

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