Last week tests have been introduced at Leeds Youth Court to enable witnesses to pre-record their cross examination evidence. If found to be a success, this will be used in Youth Courts across the country.
The measure will mean a witness or victim can pre-record their cross-examination and it can be played later at the trial. Although this is already the case in the Crown Court, this is the first time the special measure will be used in the Youth Court.
This followed the recent announcement that all Crown Courts in England and Wales will now allow complainants in rape cases to give pre-recorded evidence, following a successful application.
The recording should take place as close to the time of the offence as is practical, meaning that the memory of witnesses is as accurate as possible and avoids witnesses having the stressful experience of giving evidence in a courtroom.
This is an interesting development which some may say is overdue, given that pre-recorded evidence in chief has now been in place for a number of years. This applies to vulnerable witnesses, whose video-recorded interview taken at a very early stage of the investigation, can be played in court as their evidence in chief. Those automatically permitted to do this are witnesses under 18, complainants of sexual offences or modern slavery, and certain violent bladed article/firearms offences. In addition, the measure can be applied for if the quality of evidence is likely to be diminished through fear or distress, unless it is given by video recorded interview.
After this pre-recorded examination in chief, until this latest development, a witness would then be cross-examined live in court, and this would not have been pre-recorded.
The measure of success for this new pilot study is likely to primarily focus on the experience of the witness and whether it improved the witness’ memory of the event. This seems to be an oversight of the defendant’s views and fairness to them.