The Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, has called on the UK Government to re-evaluate special measures that are in place for rape victims during a Court trial.
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 is currently considering the move but is still looking into how it will be implemented.
What are the Proposed Measures?
Dame Vera Baird is fighting 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.
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. 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.
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
- 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.
If you’d like any advice about making a claim for compensation, our friendly and approachable Abuse Solicitors will be happy to advise you on this and put you in touch with support networks tailored to your situation.
Get in touch today for confidential legal advice.
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