Kingston Crown Court gets a glimpse of new measures to protect vulnerable witnesses

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Surrey Comet: Photograph of the Author by , Deputy editor - Kingston

An experimental new approach aimed at protecting young or vulnerable witnesses who give evidence during a trial has been tested at Kingston Crown Court.

The Ministry of Justice is launching a pilot scheme that would allow children under 16 and some adult victims of violent or sexual abuse to pre-record their evidence away from the glare of a courtroom.

It is hoped the system will prevent victims suffering further stress during cross examination, by removing the intensity of the witness box.

Keir Starmer, former chief prosecutor for England and Wales, said last year victims of violent crime faced an "unacceptable ordeal in the courtroom",

Criminal justice minister Damian Green MP visited Kingston on Thursday to watch a dummy trial using the new system.

The mock case involved a 13-year-old girl who had robbed by a schoolmate. While she sat in a room upstairs in the court house, she was cross examined by lawyers sitting in an empty courtroom.

The video was then played to a jury.

The MP, whose wife is a barrister, said: “We’ve seen many times before how young people are put on the stand for weeks on end.

"In one case a young girl who had been attacked by six or seven defendants was cross examined six or seven times and was in the witness box for a week.

"She had already suffered one ordeal and that’s another ordeal in itself."

Another positive about the system was the fact evidence could be recorded months in advance of the trial, Mr Green said.

He said: "It allows evidence to be taken much nearer the time of the event itself. It is likely to ensure that the evidence is more reliable."

Linda Baillie, of the Young Witness Service, added: “We deal with children as young as five, and the longer the delay the less reliable a young person’s evidence is likely to be.”

Jeff Gardner, London locality director for Victim Support, was in favour of the new approach.

He said: "Over the last few years there’s been quite a bit of publicity about poor treatment of witnesses, particularly young people.

"If you treat witnesses poorly they are not going to engage with the criminal justice system. All too often the witnesses needs and concerns are not listened to.

"We have to give witnesses the opportunity to give their best evidence, but somewhere that’s as safe and comfortable as can be."

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