Rape Crisis welcomes measures from Government aimed at reducing trauma for rape victims giving evidence and increasing protection for children at risk of grooming
New measures designed to spare rape victims the trauma of giving evidence in open court will be rolled out across the country from September, it's been announced today (19th March 2017).
Victims of rape and other sexual offences will have their cross examination evidence pre-recorded and played during the trial, sparing them the stress of re-living traumatic events in open court.
Rape Crisis England & Wales said:
"We wholeheartedly welcome these reforms and the commitment to real change they represent. While more victims and survivors of sexual violence than ever before have been coming forward to seek both specialist services and criminal justice in recent years, the vast majority still choose not to report to the police. Through our frontline experience of supporting women and girls who've been raped, sexual abused and sexually assaulted, we know that among the reasons for this is fear of the criminal justice system, including the prospect of giving evidence in open court and of cross-examination.
Any measure that reduces the trauma of the criminal justice process for victims and survivors is positive and it's especially encouraging that the Government is moving to implement the recommendations of reports that have suggested such changes sooner than previously planned."
Originally the rollout was not due to begin until next year but will now start in September after Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss ordered the scheme be accelerated.
Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss said:
“Attitudes to sex crimes and victims have changed beyond all recognition in our lifetime, and rape prosecutions are now at record levels.
“With more victims now finding the confidence to come forward, I am determined to make their path to justice swifter and less traumatic.
“This will not reduce the right to a fair trial, but will make sure victims of these abhorrent crimes are protected and able provide their best possible evidence.”
Work to rollout a similar scheme for child victims of sexual offences has already begun. That followed a successful pilot that showed victims felt less pressure giving pre-trial evidence and that witnesses were better able to recall events.
This led to more early guilty pleas, fewer cracked trials and victims reporting a more positive experience of the court process.
Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss said she was committed to making sure victims of sex crimes get the support they deserve and see justice swiftly delivered.
The measures will also see better protection for victims from the sharper cross-examination tactics of defence lawyers. Before the recording can begin the judge will determine a set of ‘ground rules’ including how long the cross-examination can go on for.
It also means that questions which would be ruled inadmissible in trial - such previous sexual history - can be ordered by the judge to be edited out of the recording before it is played to the jury.
The move comes ahead of the Second Reading of the Prison and Courts Bill tomorrow (MON) which included additional measures to protect vulnerable witnesses.
In criminal courts the Bill paves the way for more virtual hearings which means more vulnerable victims can give evidence away from the court room and without having to meet their attacker face to face.
While in family proceedings the Government will give courts the power to ban the appalling practice of letting domestic violence abusers interrogate their victim in court. The Bill will bring family courts into line with criminal courts, which have had the power to stop this for some years.
The Justice Secretary also announced today that she is acting to bring in a new offence of sexual communication with a child, with adult groomers facing up to two years in prison and being automatically placed on the sex offenders register.
The new offence will come into effect on 3 April 2017, and will cover both online and offline communication, including through social media, e-mail, and letters.
Ms Truss said:
“In a world of mobile phones and social media, our children are ever more vulnerable to those who prey on their innocence and exploit their trust.
“This new offence will help to us tackle the early stages of grooming, and nip in the bud those targeting children online or through text messages. My message is clear – any sexual communication with a child could see you behind bars.”
Rape Crisis said:
"Rape Crisis has provided its specialist support services to increasing numbers of child and adults who have been groomed and sexually exploited in recent years. New technologies have increasingly become tools employed by rapists and sexual offenders to target and abuse. Measures like the introduction of this new offence, aimed at protecting children from this kind of exploitation, are essential."
Rape Crisis wil monitor the outcome of these changes.