Technology to Allow Pre-Recorded Witness Testimony Rolled out in English Courts

Technology to Allow Pre-Recorded Witness Testimony Rolled out in English Courts
FW Pomeroy's statue of Justice stands atop the Central Criminal Court building, Old Bailey, London, on Jan. 8, 2019. (PA Media)
Chris Summers

The rollout of technology that allows witnesses and rape complainants to have their evidence pre-recorded, rather than giving it live in court, has been completed in England and Wales.

The Ministry of Justice said the final 20 Crown Courts in London, Essex, Buckinghamshire, and Cambridgeshire had adopted the technology, marking the end of a national rollout.

Since the technology was first introduced in August 2020 more than 3,000 witnesses have given evidence and been cross examined.

The measure can only be used where there is a successful application to a judge. The Ministry of Justice says it has been designed to make sure defendants have fair trials and their lawyers are able to cross examine witnesses in order to expose any flaws in their testimonies.

The Justice Secretary, Brandon Lewis, said: “We’re overhauling the entire response to rape—boosting support for victims so that more cases come to court and more rapists are put behind bars.”

“Today we have delivered on our pledge to roll out pre-recorded evidence to every Crown Court in England and Wales, sparing victims of this awful crime the additional trauma of testifying under the full glare of a courtroom,” he added.

The government says the measure may now be extended to youth courts.

At the time the technology was first introduced the Victims’ Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird, welcomed it and said: “I have long been concerned that children who complained of victimisation should not spend a long part of their childhood beset with the worry of ultimately giving an account of what happened. If they can give their evidence at an early stage, they will then be free to get on with their lives. There is also a further point that therapy is often delayed whilst a complainant is a witness.”
But since then the COVID-19 lockdowns and the barristers’ strike have led to a massive backlog of court cases, with Baird announcing her resignation as victims’ commissioner on Sept. 23, saying in a letter the “criminal justice system is in chaos.”

Baird, whose term ends on Friday, wrote in the letter: “This downgrading of victims’ interests in the government’s priorities, along with the side-lining of the Victims’ Commissioner’s office and the curious recruitment process make clear to me that there is nothing to be gained for victims by my staying in post beyond the current extension.”

PA Media contributed to this report.
Chris Summers is a UK-based journalist covering a wide range of national stories, with a particular interest in crime, policing and the law.
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