Justice officials have admitted they still do not know when support for vulnerable witnesses will be made fully available even though a new policy was supposed to be in place months ago.
The Ministry of Justice had intended to roll out section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act last autumn, allowing vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to video record their cross-examination before trial. That deadline passed after quality concerns arose when technology to record and play back cross-examination was being tested.
In a letter sent last week to the House of Commons justice committee, justice minister Dr Phillip Lee conceded the ongoing problems prevent a fixed timescale for rolling out Section 28.
Lee said: 'A series of changes have been made to the service and to the technology on court sites as a result but our supplier's solution has still not met the required quality standard whilst keeping this very sensitive material safe and secure. It is absolutely critical that we get this right, which is why the board overseeing the project, consisting of senior HMCTS and MoJ officials, the judiciary, the Crown Prosecution Service, the police and the defence community, took the decision that due to the nature of these issues we are not yet able to fix a timescale for roll out.
'We continue to press our suppliers to deliver a viable solution, as well as working on contingency plans and very much hope to begin rollout later this year.'
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 last year.