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New help for vulnerable witnesses

PUBLISHED: 03:00 02 May 2002 | UPDATED: 11:50 03 March 2010

VULNERABLE witnesses giving evidence in rape cases are to be given more protection under new measures being introduced by the Crown Prosecution Service.

VULNERABLE witnesses giving evidence in rape cases are to be given more protection under new measures being introduced by the Crown Prosecution Service.

The move comes after a trial involving a 16-year-old girl at Ipswich Crown Court collapsed in January.

The teenager was too upset to continue giving evidence for a second day after the case was adjourned overnight and the judge ordered the trial to be stopped and directed the jury to enter not guilty verdicts on the man accused of raping her.

Chris Yule, chief crown prosecutor for Suffolk, said that the new measures had been in the pipeline before this case came to court.

He added: "It is possible that the victim in that case might have been helped by these measures but they are not as a direct result of that case.

"There have been Government proposals planned for some time now, which are more general measures to provide confidence to victims of rape and to provide a better environment for when they give evidence.

The new measures will see the CPS establish at a much earlier stage whether the victim should be classed as vulnerable or not.

If the decision is made that he or she is, then they will be given the same protection normally reserved for victims under the age of 18.

Mr Yule said: "The big step forward is that vulnerable witnesses, even if they are adults, can have their statements taken on video and subsequently, when it comes to the court process, they will not have the trauma of giving all their evidence in person.

"Obviously they can still be cross examined but the court will have the power to use video links or screen the witness from the defendant.

"We will also have the ability to talk to a witness before the court date so that we can address any concerns that the victim might have. We obviously will not be able to discuss the merits of the case with the victim or similar things."

The CPS is also planning to introduce lawyers who specialise in rape cases to help form a relationship with witnesses.

Mr Yule said: "There will always be occasion when the victim is too traumatised to go through with the court case but we hope that these measures will give vulnerable people a bit of confidence in the criminal justice system."


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