Monthly Archives: June 2013
Vulnerable victims will no longer have to give evidence in court, Chris Grayling says
Young and vulnerable victims of crimes should not be subjected to traumatic cross-examinations in court, Chris Grayling has said.
The Justice Secretary wants to give victims the chance to pre-record evidence for criminal trials to avoid cases such as the death of violin teacher Frances Andrade, who killed herself after being cross examined at Manchester Crown Court.
The 48-year-old mother of four took her life during the trial of choirmaster Michael Brewer, who was later convicted of child sex offences against Mrs Andrade when she was 14 and 15 years old.
Mr Grayling said that vulnerable victims must in future be spared from the “aggressive and intimidating” atmosphere in courtrooms.
“The particularly hostile treatment of victims and witnesses in court has nothing to do with fairness or justice,” Mr Grayling said.
“It is simply not right that young and vulnerable victims are forced to relive the most traumatic experience they have ever had, often for days on end, when cross-examined in court.
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“I am adamant we must put a stop to this, but without compromising everyone’s right to a fair trial.”
Although judges have the power to intervene to prevent overly aggressive cross-examination and character assassinations, there are growing instances of victims being left traumatised after court cases.
There is currently no limit on the number of lawyers who can cross-examine a victim or witness, or on the amount of time they can be on the stand.
Victims and witnesses can also be required to discuss graphic details of crimes such as sexual abuse.
Children automatically receive special measures, such as giving evidence from behind a screen or giving it via video link, and these are available to other victims and witnesses at a court’s discretion.
Mr Grayling added: “For the first time we are going to spare these victims from the aggressive and intimidating court atmosphere by making sure they can give evidence and be cross-examined before the trial starts.”
Mrs Andrade, from Guildford, Surrey, was found dead just days after a bruising cross-examination.
During the trial Mrs Andrade, who had not wanted to bring the case, was accused of being a liar and a fantasist by Brewer’s barrister Kate Blackwell QC.
Mr Grayling’s announcement came after the head of a leading charity warned it is only a matter of time before a child witness commits suicide if nothing is done to address the adversarial culture in courtrooms.
Javed Khan, chief executive of Victim Support, said: “Are we really waiting for a child witness to kill themselves before we accept that the adversarial culture of our courtrooms is wrong?
“If things stay the same I fear it’s only a matter of time before the worst happens.”