Lawyers blast plan to shield rape ac­cusers from court quizzing

Daily Mail - - News - By Steve Doughty So­cial Af­fairs Cor­re­spon­dent

TOP lawyers have slammed Gov­ern­ment plans to shield rape ac­cusers from fac­ing cros­sex­am­i­na­tion in court.

They said pro­pos­als to let al­leged vic­tims give ev­i­dence by video record­ing would be un­fair to de­fen­dants – and make it harder for ju­ries to de­ter­mine the truth.

The back­lash fol­lows the an­nounce­ment of the plans at the week­end by Jus­tice Sec­re­tary Liz Truss. Writ­ing in a Sun­day news­pa­per, she said the scheme – which is set to go na­tion­wide from the au­tumn – ‘will not re­duce the right to a fair trial, but will en­sure vic­tims of th­ese crimes are pro­tected’.

She said that pi­lots in tri­als in­volv­ing chil­dren and vul­ner­a­ble wit­nesses led to more guilty pleas and were a ‘more pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence’ for vic­tims.

But lawyer An­drew Ford wrote in the bar­ris­ters’ trade mag­a­zine Coun­sel that there was ‘a feel­ing that the wit­ness can ap­pear re­moved from the case’. He said for chil­dren this was good but ‘oth­ers ar­gue that there is no sub­sti­tute for hav­ing the wit­ness in front of the jury.’

Mean­while Fran­cis FitzGib­bon QC, chair­man of the Crim­i­nal Bar As­so­ci­a­tion, told Ra­dio 4: ‘If it is likely to be­come the de­fault for sex abuse cases, I think it’s likely to de­tract from the re­al­ity of tri­als. It would make it harder for ju­ries to de­ter­mine where truth lies.’

He added that it was im­por­tant for tri­als to hap­pen ‘in real time’ as they can ‘change rapidly’.

Zoe Gas­coyne, chair­man of the Crim­i­nal Law Solic­i­tors As­so­ci­a­tion, said the courts were un­pre­pared to pre-record ev­i­dence for hun­dreds of cases.

She added that al­leged vic­tims might have to re­turn to give more ev­i­dence, and would still have to wait for a trial even if not in the court­room. ‘I do not think this is as ben­e­fi­cial for de­fen­dants as made out,’ she said.

Miss Truss is ex­pected to in­clude reg­u­la­tions for record­ing rape com­plainants in her Pris­ons and Courts Bill, which was pre­sented to MPs for its se­cond read­ing yes­ter­day.

In the Com­mons, for­mer at­tor­ney gen­eral Do­minic Grieve warned that let­ting al­leged rape vic­tims pre-record ev­i­dence could un­der­mine a fair trial.

While in the Min­istry of Jus­tice’s own eval­u­a­tion of the pi­lots last Septem­ber, an­a­lyst John Baver­stock warned: ‘Some ad­vo­cates felt con­di­tions meant they were not able to ef­fec­tively ques­tion the wit­ness.’

Re­spond­ing to the crit­i­cism, Miss Truss said ‘a fair trial is at the heart of our jus­tice sys­tem’, adding: ‘Th­ese is­sues [will be looked at] in de­tail to make sure that a fair trial is al­ways para­mount in th­ese cases.’

Storm over plan for rape vic­tims to pre-record court ev­i­dence

From yes­ter­day’s Mail

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