Publicly funded advocates will have to undergo specialist training before being allowed to take sexual assault and rape cases under government plans to make the court process less traumatic for victims of crime.
By March 2015, the Ministry of Justice said it will be a requirement that all publicly funded solicitor and barristers must undertake 'approved specialist training' on working with vulnerable victims and witnesses in serious sexual cases.
It gave no further details.
The requirement was among a raft of measures announced by justice secretary Chris Grayling (pictured) in the run-up to the political party conference season. Both Labour and the Lib Dems are expected to highlight failures to support victims of crime.
The government's plans to introduce rights for victims will be set out in legislation, giving them the right to make a personal statement telling the court how they have been affected.
By March 2015 the ministry said it will set up a nationwide victims’ information service, including a helpline and website to ensure better information and support.
By April 2016 it wants to develop the service to offer a ‘one-stop shop’ enabling victims to submit complaints and feedback about their experience and by 2018 it wants to enable victims to be able to track the progress of their case throughout the criminal justice system.
By March 2016, the ministry wants to modernise courts buildings, providing separate waiting areas for victims of crime.
In addition all vulnerable victims and witnesses will be given the opportunity to give evidence remotely from the court building.
By March 2017 the ministry wants to have completed the national rollout of pre-trial cross-examination for child victims, subject to the evaluation of pilot schemes.
The ministry also intends paying compensation to victims upfront, rather than requiring them to wait for money. It will consult on the proposal by December.
Announcing the package, Grayling said: ‘This government has already significantly improved services and support for victims, investing more than ever in the help they are offered, but we are also the first to acknowledge that more can, and should, be done.’
He said: ‘Our criminal justice system can be daunting, and victims, especially the most vulnerable, can find it traumatic and difficult to know where to turn to for advice and support.
‘For the first time we will create a system that puts the highest emphasis on victims’ needs and sets out their rights clearly in legislation.’
Law Society President Andrew Caplen commented: 'We are very aware of the concerns around the treatment of complainants and witnesses in court, many of whom are vulnerable. While criminal trials must always be fair to the defendant, there are undoubtedly ways that can be made to make them less distressing to witnesses and victims of crime and we support the government's desire to do this.
'Our solicitor advocate members already sit with barristers on a judicially-led committee working to develop specific training aimed at advocates who appear in trials involving such witnesses. We will share this expertise and work with the government to make sure that the changes are proportionate and cost-effective. We will be examining the Ministry of Justice’s proposals, which will hopefully dovetail with this work.'