As a leading charity warned that it was only a matter of time before a child witness kills themselves after the trauma of giving evidence, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced moves to spare them from harrowing court cases.
Children and vulnerable adults will be able to pre-record both their evidence and the cross-examination in a series of pilot projects due to start later this year.
The move will not come too soon for charities that have long complained that frightened victims or witnesses were being put through additional trauma by distressing and intimidating court experiences.
Yesterday Victim Support chief executive Javed Khan said: "We've all heard stories of children - many of them victims of horrific sex crimes - being thrown to the wolves in court and it needs to stop.”
"Are we really waiting for a child witness to kill themselves before we accept that the adversarial culture of our courtrooms is wrong?,” added Mr Khan, who said he remained haunted by the plight of Frances Andrade.
The 48-year-old killed herself days after testifying against former music teacher Michael Brewer, who was later found guilty of five counts of indecent assault. She told a friend that she felt “raped all over again” after being cross-examined over allegations that he indecently assaulted her as a youngster.
Yesterday the Ministry of Justice said that all children as well as vulnerable adults, such as victims of particularly harrowing crimes and those with mental health problems or special needs, would be eligible for the six-month pilot schemes being run in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston-upon-Thames with the intention of rolling it out more widely if it proves a success. Their interviews will be pre-recorded before the case with barristers and the judge speaking via live-link in a separate room.
Although there are provisions for children and some adults to give evidence from behind a screen or via video link with the help of Special Registered Intermediaries, the MoJ acknowledged yesterday that the measures did not go far enough.
“The particularly hostile treatment of victims and witnesses in court has nothing to do with fairness or justice,” Mr Grayling said.
“It is simply not right that young and vulnerable victims are forced to relive the most traumatic experience they have ever had, often for days on end, when cross-examined in court. I am adamant we must put a stop to this, but without compromising everyone’s right to a fair trial.”
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