The government has recently announced that victims of sexual abuse will in future be able to give evidence by video. Following the recent cases in Rochdale and Oxford involving child grooming rings, there have been calls for the victims of sexual abuse to be protected in court.
Last month saw the launch of a pilot scheme to trial video evidence in court. The pilot scheme, which will ensure that child victims and vulnerable adults are protected from appearing in court; therefore preventing any situation in which they could be subjected to hostile and prolonged questioning by the defence; is being trialled in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston-upon-Thames.
The trial will require the government to implement section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. This would allow the evidence of children and vulnerable adults to be recorded prior to the trial. The victims would therefore not have to endure the actual trial, as their recorded evidence would stand as evidence in chief. However, the justice secretary, Chris Grayling has stated that the right to a fair trial would continue. The defence would still have the opportunity to recall the witness if there are matters which need to be clarified, or which were not covered during the recorded statement.
As the law currently stands, the judge is able to stop questioning that they feel is overly-aggressive, and unfair. Despite this, the safety net is not wide enough, as there is no protection for victims in relation to how long the questioning can carry on for. It was noted in one recent case that a child victim was questioned by seven defence barristers. This cross examination lasted a total of three weeks, and forced the victim to recollect the abuse they suffered in great detail. Understandably, this sort of experience is likely to be extremely upsetting for the individual concerned.
The NSPCC have welcomed the pilot scheme, with a hope that it will lead to a lasting change. Alan Wardle from the NSPCC commented: “We know that some cases don’t even get to court because they worry about how children will be able to cope. So this is a very good step forward today.”
Farleys has a team of solicitors who specialise in helping victims of abuse to pursue compensation claims. If you would like to discuss the possibility of making a child abuse claim, please don’t hesitate to contact us free of charge and without obligation.