Monthly Archives: June 2013

Lord Cheif Justice backs move to protect vulnerable witnesses

Guidelines amending the prosecution of abuse cases regarding children are to be introduced nearly 25 years after initially being proposed which aim to shield witnesses which may be vulnerable. Lord Judge the current lord chief justice gave his approval of the decision made by the lord chancellor who announced that under the new pilot scheme vulnerable witnesses as well as children will be cross-examined prior to hearing of the case in order to save them the stress and pressure of the in court procedure. He went on to give the historical background of the proposals by saying the initial plan came from a committee in 1989 chaired by Judge Pigot QC with the idea having long standing support.

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The proposed guidelines have set out a list of the procedures and practices which prosecuting lawyers as well as police officers must adopt when handling cases with children and vulnerable witnesses. The published proposal sets out a step by step guideline to be applied to such cases from start to finish.

Foremost sexual abuse cases involving children should only be assigned to a special team of Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) prosecutors. An agreement must be reached between the police and the prosecution service for their cooperation and close work which tackles evidential problems as well as form a strategy on how to deal with the issue in hand. The following stage of the proposal requests the case to be decided and acted upon its ‘merits’ without prosecuting based on preconceptions and stereotypes. The pilot scheme demands that the police alongside the CPS provide assistance and counseling to victims where such support is deemed to be necessary. The final substantial element of the proposals is that CPS barristers are ready to come head to head with stereotypes in court proceedings as well as do their best to ensure that there is minimum delays when it comes to hearing the case.

The director of public prosecutions (DPP), Keir Starmer stated that he wishes barristers actively challenge preconceptions and stereotypes which a jury may come into the courtroom having thus eliminating vulnerability as a barrier to successfully achieving justice. He moved on to support the CPS by stating that they have an experienced team of professionals which he believes are ready to achieve the demanding aims of the proposals.