Vulnerable witnesses in Wales, Manchester and East Anglia can pre-record cross-examination evidence from today, as the government promises to make the option available in all Crown courts by the end of the year.
Some 62 Crown courts in England and Wales now allow vulnerable individuals to pre-record evidence to avoid the stress of addressing a full courtroom, the Ministry of Justice said. Cross-examinations are video-recorded as close to the time of the offence as possible, and defence and prosecution lawyers, the judge and the defendant are present in court during the pre-recording.
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.
The decision to pre-record evidence is made by judges on a case-by-case basis and since February 2020 more than 300 recordings have taken place across England and Wales.
Justice minister Alex Chalk MP, said: ‘The court process can be extremely traumatic for vulnerable victims and is vital we minimise the stress on them where possible. This technology ensures they are protected and able to give their best possible evidence, without reducing a defendant’s right to a fair trial.'
The Ministry of Justice is also piloting a scheme which allows alleged victims of sexual and modern slavery offences to pre-record cross-examination evidence. In Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston upon Thames, witnesses who feel intimidated in cases relating to sexual and modern-day slavery offences can record their cross-examination evidence before trials start. A decision on wider rollout will depend on the pilot's outcome.