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.
The report recommends an expansion in the provision of Section 28 as soon as practically possible. Presently, this law is only used to allow vulnerable witnesses to pre-record their evidence and cross examination, but the Section covers intimidated witnesses too. Using it to the full would mean that hundreds of complainants of sexual crimes could give their evidence and cross-examination on video at an early stage so that their testimony would be fully secured. At the trial the two videos would be played to the jury. In that way, the witnesses would not face long delays before their case comes to court.
Dame Vera says: “I am calling for all victims of sexual crimes to be allowed to give evidence and be cross-examined by video, at an early stage while their memory is fresh. Then they are free to take therapy if they need it and to get on with their lives since the video evidence would be their evidence in court. With some crimes from last year unlikely to reach court before 2022 or later, this could spare thousands of potentially traumatised victims a long and anxious wait.”
The report recommends HMCTS ensure separate entrances to court buildings for all vulnerable or intimidated witnesses. This is currently dependent on the individual court and its working culture. The report also found that remote evidence centres were significantly under-used. These centres allow witnesses to give their evidence without ever attending court.