In the first phase of her review into the provision of Special Measures – which are measures designed to help victims and witnesses to give the best quality evidence they can – Dame Vera has published a literature review of existing research into this issue.
The review, which was conducted by Dr Samantha Fairclough from Birmingham Law School, found:
- There is limited available research regarding this issue, what there is focuses almost exclusively on trials in the Crown Court, with a distinct lack of information on trials of less serious offences in the magistrates’ courts, including the youth court.
- There appears to be a prevailing view among criminal practitioners, and some witnesses, that evidence given by video link has less of an impact on jurors and is therefore avoided. This is despite any empirical evidence which supports this view.
- Evidence that defence witnesses can be less well supported than prosecution witnesses, despite being equally eligible for special measures.
- A survey of victims and witnesses in 2010 found that 92% of those whose evidence-in-chief was pre-recorded, 89% of those who used a live link and 85% of those using a screen found these measures helpful.
Dr Fairclough’s review will be followed by a detailed examination of special measures and their provision which will be conducted by Dame Vera’s own research team and will be published in autumn 2020.
Commenting on the launch, Dame Vera said: “Victims should be at the centre of the criminal justice system, but they can often feel like they are an afterthought or mere bystanders.
“I hear many examples of issues with the provision of special measures – just recently I was made aware of a situation where a rape victim was denied access to screens and had to come face to face with the person on trial for attacking her – which just gives you an idea of the kind of treatment some people are being exposed to.
“And it is sometimes the case that victims and witnesses are assured that special measures will be available for them only to arrive at court to find they are not adding to the stress and trauma of the experience.
“That is why I am so determined to have a thorough examination of this issue so I can identify why things are not working the way they should, and what needs to be done to ensure victims are given support and protections they deserve and are entitled to in law.”
The next phase is a programme of research with frontline staff involved in identifying the need for special measures and providing these, as well as research with vulnerable victims themselves.
Dame Vera continued: “Giving evidence to a court can be a worrying and, for some, traumatising experience. Special Measures were introduced to help make this process easier. They are not a ‘nice to have’ they are a legal entitlement.
“This piece of work is extremely important and will hopefully lead to a much better experience for witnesses and victims which is crucial,” she concluded.
Find more Published reviews.