All Crown courts will be equipped by the end of the year to let vulnerable victims and witnesses give pre-recorded evidence, the government said today.

Vulnerable witnesses and victims are defined as all child witnesses under 18 and any witness whose quality of evidence is likely to be diminished due to a mental disorder or physical disability, or their intelligence and social functioning is significantly impaired.

Pre-recorded evidence is already available at 18 Crown courts across the country. From today, it will be available at all Crown courts in London and Kent, Basildon, Chelmsford and Stafford. The Ministry of Justice says the new service will be available in every Crown court by the end of the year.

Judges will decide pre-recorded evidence on a case-by-case basis. The recording is carried out as close to the time of the offence as possible. Defence and prosecution lawyers, the judge and the defendant will be present in court during the pre-recording.

Justice minister Alex Chalk said: ‘Vulnerable victims show great courage by coming forward, and it’s vital they can do so in the least traumatic way possible. This technology ensures they are protected and are able to give their best possible evidence, without reducing a defendant’s right to a fair trial.’

The ministry said in today’s announcement that a Primark security guard from Kingston-upon-Thames was jailed last year after the four girls he sexually assaulted gave their evidence in a pre-recorded session prior to the trial.

Dame Vera Baird, Victims’ Commissioner, welcomed the latest development. She said: ‘I have long been concerned that children who complained of victimisation should not spend a long part of their childhood beset with the worry of ultimately giving an account of what happened. If they can give their evidence at an early stage, they will then be free to get on with their lives. There is also a further point that therapy is often delayed whilst a complainant is a witness.’

The ministry also mentioned that technology has been piloted for victims of sexual or modern slavery offences, in Liverpool, Leeds and Kingston-upon-Thames, which could be extended to other courts pending the pilot evaluation.