Nicola O'Connor, Senior Associate, Fraud and Criminal Litigation department, was interviewed by BBC Radio Wales on 10 June 2013. She was asked to respond to the Justice Secretary, Chris Graylings announcement that he was to implement s28 of Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. This will allow children and vulnerable witness to give their evidence on video rather than in a court room. Chris Grayling explained that the proposed changes will protect witnesses from "the trauma of appearing in court" The evidence would be pre recorded prior to the trial. This new approach will be tested in three areas, one of which is our local court, Kingston Upon Thames Crown Court. Russell-Cooke will therefore have firsthand experience of whether these proposed changes are successful.
Nicola explained that currently children and vulnerable witnesses can already give their evidence in chief in this way. She pointed out that it is unclear from the announcement exactly at what stage the pre recorded cross examination of the witnesses will take place. She explained that it is important that the defence are not expected to cross examine any witnesses without having all of the evidence against their client. Nicola explained that often key evidence is served late in the day by the Crown Prosecution Service. If evidence were served after the video recording of the cross examination had taken place then it may necessitate the witness having to be called to give evidence in court any event. For this pilot to be successful it would mean changes would need to be put in place to ensure the defence were served with the Prosecution evidence much sooner than they are currently.
Chris Grayling has announced a raft of proposed changes to the criminal justice system over the last few months. In particular Nicola drew attention to the implementation of means testing in the Crown Court for defendants earning over £37,500. This will see more and more defendants representing themselves in court. However, defendants charged with sexual offences for example are not allowed to cross examine complainants. This will mean that counsel will have to be appointed in any event to undertake this task. It will be interesting to see how courts are able to cope with so many changes being implemented in the coming months.
If you would like to know more about these changes please contact Nicola O'Connor on +44 (0)20 8788 0005