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Vulnerable and intimidated witnesses overlooked for legal protections while giving evidence

Vulnerable and intimidated witnesses overlooked for legal protections while giving evidence
  • Vulnerable and intimidated witnesses still put at risk of coming face-to-face with perpetrators and not receiving the support they need to prevent courtroom intimidation.
  • Call for more rape victims to have their evidence and cross-examination videoed to get them out of the growing courts backlog.
  • Call for guaranteed separate entrances to court buildings for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses and better use of remote evidence centres to avoid the stress and fear around attending court.
  • “Special measures are not a ‘nice to have’ but are essential provisions for many witnesses and for the criminal justice system,” says Dame Vera Baird QC.

A new report by the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, examines the provision of protections for vulnerable and intimidated victims, known as ‘special measures.’ The Commissioner found the current system is not working as well as it could with victims and witnesses falling through the gaps and not being offered appropriate special measures.  

This situation has been exacerbated as courts deal with the challenge of social distancing and comes as the newly passed Domestic Abuse Act extends special measures to all domestic abuse victims, greatly increasing the numbers likely to be entitled to help.

With a growing court backlog and long victim delays, Dame Vera also reiterated her calls for intimidated witnesses to be able to have all their evidence videoed at an early stage and kept for a future trial as vulnerable witnesses are able to do now (Section 28).

Dame Vera Baird says: “Special measures are not a ‘nice to have’ but are essential provisions for many witnesses and for the criminal justice system. Giving evidence to a court can be a worrying and, for some, traumatising experience. Special measures were introduced to make this easier for witnesses and to avoid unnecessary stress and distress. Some witnesses will not be able to give evidence at all without this help but not all victims and witnesses are getting the protections they need. And this is a major problem for the criminal justice system which needs to secure all the available evidence on both sides of a case.”

Full press release

Read the report here

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