An influential cross-party group of MPs is calling for evidence on the use of pre-recorded cross-examination, including its impact on court listings, capacity and delays.

Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 allows vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to pre-record cross-examination before the trial. The recording is presented during trial without the witness needing to attend.

According to a section 28 process evaluation report published by the Ministry of Justice in April, the cross-examination experience ‘could still be unpleasant and stressful for witnesses, mostly due to the style of questioning by defence advocates’.

The evaluation found that witnesses were not always provided with timely and clear information about the section 28 process. Advocates and court staff believed section 28 had a negative impact on scheduling and court listings due to, for instance, the requirement for the same judge and advocates to be available at all hearings.

Responding to a Law Commission consultation on evidence in sexual offences prosecutions, the Criminal Bar Association said section 28 was being used to avoid listing difficulties 'because once the recording is completed the case ceases to be a priority and the trial can take place two or more years later'.

The justice committee held two evidence sessions in June on the use of section 28 and the government’s evaluation.

Committee chair Sir Bob Neill said: ‘Earlier this year we heard compelling evidence from barristers that there are real problems with how section 28 is working. Now we want to gather more evidence to put to the government to see if the situation can be improved for everyone.

‘In our call for evidence the committee wishes to analyse every aspect of the practical operation of section 28, its impact, plus any improvements or reforms which need to take place following its implementation.’

The deadline for submissions is 6 December.


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