Lack of court video links for young witnesses attacked

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A CHILDREN’S charity has condemned the “astonishing and appalling” imbalance in the availability of video connections for young witnesses to give evidence in court compared to suspected criminals.

The NSPCC called for all children to be offered the facility – which is available to thousands of prisoners – in order to avoid the ordeal of having to go to court in person to give evidence.

The charity’s chief executive, Peter Wanless, said: “If remote links are good enough for those accused of crimes then why on earth are they not available for all child witnesses? This imbalance in the judicial system is both astonishing and appalling.

“Everyone seems to agree that the young victims of crime should get every assistance possible when giving their evidence yet here we have a gaping hole in the system that needs to be plugged immediately. The courts are rightly using remote video links from prisons to save money and improve security. But this technology should also be used to help vulnerable children give evidence. This will reduce the intense emotional strain they are put under and allow them to give their best evidence – which is in the interests of justice.”

According to the Ministry of Justice, about 50,000 court hearings take place per year where the suspect appears via video link from prison. The NSPCC said that in 2012/13, 249 children and vulnerable witnesses were allowed to use special rooms in police stations to give evidence remotely and avoid the stress of attending a court building.

Figures from the previous year showed that about 21,000 children and young people had attended court as witnesses or alleged victims.

ChildLine, which is run by the NSPCC, was contacted 1,200 times last year by children worried about giving evidence in court. The charity revealed one girl told its counsellors she had been self-harming and the thought of giving evidence against her abuser in court “makes me want to run and hide”.

A mother, whose sons had to give evidence against their violent father, said: “The boys were really worried about coming face to face with their father in the court building. Even just turning down a corridor and actually seeing him face to face was more of an anxiety than the questioning.”

Victim Support’s assistant chief executive, Adam Pemberton, claimed children should be allowed to pre-record their evidence if they want to.