New protections for vulnerable victims and witnesses at Sussex crown court

Vulnerable victims and witnesses in Sussex now have the option to pre-record their evidence, removing the need to attend trial.

The new courtroom protections at Lewes Crown Court came into force on Monday, August 24 – and will be available in every crown court by the end of the year.

The move follows successful pilots in Liverpool, Leeds, and Kingston-upon-Thames, where victims felt less pressure than attending court.

Justice Minister, Alex Chalk MP, said: “Vulnerable victims show great courage by coming forward, and it’s vital they can do so in the least traumatic way possible.

Lewes Crown Court

“This technology ensures they are protected and are able to give their best possible evidence, without reducing a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

“But this is just one part of our efforts to boost the support on offer for victims at every stage of the justice system, which includes consulting on a Victims’ Law.”

The new technology allows witnesses and victims to have their cross-examination video-recorded earlier in the process and played during the trial. This is to ensure they can provide their best evidence, away from the courtroom which many can often find intimidating.

The recording is carried out as close to the time of the offence as possible in order to help memory recall, and reduce the stress of giving evidence to a full courtroom at trial. Both the defence and prosecution lawyers will be present in court during the pre-recording as will the judge and the defendant.

Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, said: “I very much welcome this further rollout ensuring that more vulnerable victims and witnesses have the option to pre-record their evidence.

“I have long been concerned that children who complained of victimisation should not spend a long part of their childhood beset with the worry of ultimately giving an account of what happened.

“If they can give their evidence at an early stage, they will then be free to get on with their lives. There is also a further point that therapy is often delayed whilst a complainant is a witness.

“I congratulate HMCTS and the Ministry of Justice in driving this forward and being so responsive. The sooner these arrangements are in place the better. This has the potential to transform the criminal justice experience for so many vulnerable victims.”

Vulnerable witnesses and victims are defined as all child witnesses under 18 and any witness who quality of evidence is likely to be diminished because they are suffering from a mental disorder or physical disability or has significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning.

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