Rape Victims: Special Measures Needed in Court Trials

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Joshua Hurst

Solicitor, Abuse

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The former Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, called on the UK Government to re-evaluate special measures that are in place for rape victims during a Court trial, but has since quit after saying “criminal justice system is in chaos”.

For victims of rape and sexual abuse, the thought of giving evidence in Court can be very daunting and traumatising. In England and Wales, vulnerable witnesses are eligible to get special measures during the trial, such as giving evidence via video link or from behind a screen. But, this doesn’t always extend to intimidated witnesses, such as those who have alleged sexual offences.

The Government have now rolled out the Rape Review Action Plan, which was established on the 21st June 2021.

The Rape Review arose due to a severe decline in rape prosecutions in England and Wales, which were the lowest on record at 2,409 in 2020-21, whereas in 2016-17 it was at 5,190. These shocking statistics pushed Dame Vera Baird into driving for measures to protect rape victims when attending court.

What were the Proposed Measures in 2020?

Dame Vera Baird tried to fight to get special measures in place for all vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, including:

  • Separate entrances and waiting rooms for the witnesses
  • The option to give evidence remotely, without having to attend Court e.g. via a video link
  • Protective screens to shield witnesses from the defendant in Court
  • Ensuring that victims’ mobile phones are given back to them within 24 hours
  • Pre-recording cross-examination for rape victims
  • Barring the public from Courts more often

“We've found that almost everybody who was asked had heard victims say how frightened they were to come to court,” Dame Vera Baird told BBC.

The main fear for victims is coming face to face with their abuser, and their “supporters” if they have any. The idea of going to Court can often put some victims off from ever coming forward about their abuse, causing them to instead choose to suffer in silence.

We hope that the Government will agree to implement these special measures for all vulnerable and intimidated victims, so they can get the justice and support they need, without the added distress and trauma that going to Court can bring.


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Drop in Cases going to Court

A recent review found that there's been a huge drop in the number of rape cases going to Court in the last 5 years. According to the review, of an estimated 128,000 victims of rape and attempted rape, only 43,000 report it to the police, only 3,000 make it to Court and just 2,000 perpetrators are convicted. 

These statistics show us that much more needs to be done to protect victims of abuse and help them get the justice and support they need.

What happens in the Trial?

All rape and sexual offence cases are handled by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), an independent body who work closely with the police, courts and Judiciary to delivery justice on criminal cases.

First, the defendant (suspect) will attend a hearing at a Magistrates’ Court, and the victim doesn’t attend this initial stage.

If the defendant pleads not guilty, the case will go to the Crown Court, and they’ll be required to attend and give witness evidence. The police and CPS have the option to apply to the Court for special measures before the trial to give the witness the option to give evidence via a video link or from behind a screen.

Evidence will be given in front of a Judge and a Jury made up of 12 members of the public. If the witness has chosen to do a video statement, this will be shown to the Jury before the witness is called into the Court room to give further evidence.

The witness will then be questioned by the Defence Barrister. This is another daunting prospect for victims, as it can feel like an intense interrogation. It takes a lot of courage to come forward about abuse, and having to relive what happened to you can be very traumatic, which is why Dame Vera Baird was pushing for change.Being able to pre-record cross examination could relieve some of this trauma for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.

After the Jury has heard all the evidence, the Judge will sum up the points from both sides and send the Jury to a private room to make their decision.

Tips for Attending Court

Coming forward in a case like this is extremely difficult, yet very brave. Here are the things we recommend you should do when attending court for the first time:

  • Visit the Court before the date of the trial – the police or CPS can arrange for you to visit the Court in advance so you can familiarise yourself with the Court room.
  • Refresh yourself on your witness statement – if you’ve recorded a video statement or written one, it can help to read or watch it back so you remember exactly what you’ve said.
  • Keep in regular contact with your Solicitor or Lawyer – if you have questions at any stage about the trial or the process, we’ll be on hand to answer them and offer full support.

No one should have to go through something as traumatic as sexual abuse. If you’re a survivor of abuse, it can be extremely difficult to come to terms with and no amount of money will make up for what you’ve been through. We can also provide you with details of support organisations and survivors groups who may be able to offer support.

Taking legal action against your abuser or those responsible for your abuse can help you to find the closure you need to start to rebuild your life. In addition, our team are specialists in bringing Criminal Injuries Claims and can provide you with the support you need to make a claim.

Our empathetic and compassionate Abuse Team have years of experience in representing survivors of sexual abuse and rape, helping them to get the closure and justice they need to move forward. Call us on 0808 239 7025 for a tailored yet compassionate discussion about your situation. We’ll be with you every step of the way.


The Guardian. (2022, September 23). Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, to leave post. https://www.theguardian.com/law/2022/sep/23/victims-commissioner-england-and-wales-dame-vera-baird-to-leave-post

Sky News. (2022, September 23). Victims' Commissioner Dame Vera Baird resigns in damning letter accusing ministers of downgrading victims' interests. https://news.sky.com/story/victims-commissioner-dame-vera-baird-resigns-in-damning-letter-accusing-ministers-of-downgrading-victims-interests-12704044

Victims' Commissioner for England and Wales. (n.d.). The distressing truth is that if you are raped in Britain today, your chances of seeing justice are slim. https://victimscommissioner.org.uk/news/the-distressing-truth-is-that-if-you-are-raped-in-britain-today-your-chances-of-seeing-justice-are-slim/

The Guardian. (2020, July 14). 'We are facing the decriminalisation of rape,' warns victims' commissioner. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/jul/14/we-are-facing-the-decriminalisation-of-warns-victims-commissioner

Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). (n.d.). https://www.cps.gov.uk/

Joshua Hurst

Solicitor, Abuse

Areas of Expertise:
Abuse Claims

Joshua works as a Solicitor in our Abuse Department, which operates under the leadership of Liam Goggin.

Joshua has been with Simpson Millar since 2019, where he started as a Paralegal in the Abuse Department, a role he stayed in for two years. His dedication and drive then led him to a position as a Trainee Solicitor, where he worked in the Industrial Disease and Military Claims Departments. His passion for representing victims of abuse made him return to the Abuse department, where he completed his training contract and began working as a Solicitor.

He takes immense pride in representing victims of abuse, deeply valuing the trust his clients place in him. Every day, he's reminded of the importance of listening attentively, acting in the clients' best interests, and guiding them through their challenging moments. Ever since he began his legal career, Joshua knew he wanted to help represent victims of abuse. It means a lot to him when clients trust him with their stories and cases. His main goal is to help his clients as much as he can, so they can start to heal and move on.

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