Courtrooms ‘distressing’ for vulnerable child witnesses, Emma tells Parliament

July 4, 2014

130711 - Emma Lerwell Buck MP smallOn Tuesday (1 July) Emma asked the Minister for Criminal Justice, Damian Green, to do more to protect vulnerable child witnesses in Britain’s courtrooms.

Emma recently backed the NSPCC’s Order in Court campaign, which has highlighted how the intimidating nature of the court system can be confusing and frightening for young children called to give evidence.  They showed how young children faced ‘brutal’ cross-examination, and the emotional distress young people – including many victims – felt as a result.

NSPCC wants to see the Government do more to introduce remote sites for interviewing vulnerable witnesses away from the courtroom, as well as a requirement for barristers and lawyers who handle sexual abuse cases to have specialist training to make sure they deal with witnesses in an appropriate and sensitive way.

A leading Crown Court Judge, Judge Rook, also backed the NSPCC’s call, saying there should be a “gold standard” for advocates working on these cases.

Speaking at Justice Questions, Emma asked the Minister:

“Last month, Judge Rook argued that all advocates taking on sexual offence cases should be required to undertake specialist training, so that vulnerable witnesses are questioned in a fair and appropriate way. Does the Minister agree that this will protect witnesses, particularly children, from the distress of harsh cross-examination? Will he set out what discussions he has had with the Bar Standards Board on this issue?”

Mr Green replied that there were “a number of interesting ideas” for protecting witnesses, and said the Government was piloting a scheme where witnesses’ interviews could be recorded before the trial itself so that “young, vulnerable witnesses do not have to go through the whole courtroom ordeal.”

However, he did not mention whether he supported the issue of specialist training, and Emma has followed up her question with a Written Question to the Minister asking him to confirm what meetings he has held with the Bar Standards Board.

You can read the official record of Emma’s question by clicking here.

Speaking after Questions, Emma said:

“The pilot scheme is a small step in the right direction, but this problem is bigger than the Minister realises.  For children the court process is incredibly frightening and the adult-centred justice system does not make any effort to accommodate them or make the experience less traumatic.  This is very upsetting for the children and affects the quality of evidence they are able to give.

“I will be pressing the Minister for a full answer, and asking him to back the NSPCC’s call for better training for lawyers and to introduce more remote sites so children can give evidence in an environment where they feel comfortable and safe.”

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