Victims and witnesses involved in criminal proceedings in Leeds will be allowed to give their evidence before trials start from today.
The city’s crown court is one of only three in the country being used in a government pilot designed to spare vulnerable people the trauma of being quizzed in front of judges, juries and defendants.
People who may find it difficult to give their best evidence in open court – and all child victims – will be considered for pre-trial cross-examination.
Victims’ Minister Damian Green said: “It is crucial that people who have experienced or reported horrific crimes are given the highest possible level of protection and support. I am determined that their needs will be put first. It is vital the right to a fair trial is upheld.
“As part of that, if someone is accused of a crime they should be brought to justice as swiftly as possible.
“If you have experienced a horrendous crime, giving evidence in the pressured environment of a live courtroom, in front of the jury and the public gallery, can be intimidating and perhaps too much to ask.”
Under previous rules, victims and witnesses could only be cross-examined in open court, although those deemed vulnerable could give evidence from behind a screen or via video link. If successful, the six-month trial – in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston-upon Thames – would then be rolled out.
Adam Pemberton, assistant chief executive at Victim Support, said: “We welcome these pilots because repeated, aggressive questioning of vulnerable witnesses in a packed courtroom cannot be the best way to obtain sound and accurate evidence.
“More importantly, it is not the right way to protect vulnerable victims and witnesses from what can often be a distressing and traumatic experience.
“Victims and witnesses are entitled to a fair trial as well as defendants and we believe pre-recorded evidence taken in a less intense environment and when events are fresher in the mind will help level the playing field.”