The government's mission to modernise criminal justice has suffered a setback with the Ministry of Justice being forced to delay support for vulnerable witnesses due to IT 'quality issues'.
The ministry was hoping to test the pre-recording of cross examination of intimidated witnesses who are victims of sexual and modern slavery offences in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston upon Thames Crown courts this autumn. The department had also planned a phased rollout of pre-trial cross examination for all vulnerable witnesses in England and Wales.
However, in a letter to Bob Neill MP, chair of the commons justice select committee, justice minister Phillip Lee said 'quality issues' had arisen when upgraded technology that will record and play back the cross-examination was tested.
Lee said: 'In the testing of the upgraded technology that will record and playback the cross examination, some quality issues have arisen. I want to ensure that all these are completely resolved before we go ahead. It is essential that we have confidence we can deliver effective pre-recordings in order to provide reassurance to those witnesses who may benefit from this measure that they will not have to face the accused in court.'
The government began piloting pre-trial cross examination for vulnerable witnesses, under-16s and those lacking mental or physical capacity, in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston upon Thames in December 2013. The pilot was extended to under 18s in January this year.
Technology is at the heart of the ministry's much-stated objective to build a modern courts and justice system to support the most vulnerable, including crime victims, intimidated witnesses and people experiencing family breakdown.