News – Ministry of Justice – Thousands more victims to avoid trauma of courtroom cross-examination under plans to boost barrister fees

Original press release available here.

Vulnerable victims in up to 4,600 cases involving crimes including sexual abuse and rape will be able to avoid giving their evidence in a full courtroom every year according to new estimates from the Ministry of Justice.

  • New estimates predict potential tripling in use of video technology for vulnerable victims every year
  • Victims in up to 4,600 cases of sexual violence could pre-record evidence ahead of main trial
  • Barristers’ fees boosted to support expansion

The estimates are published alongside new legislation which will for the first-time mean barristers are paid specifically for this work as part of the Government’s £138m extra annual investment in criminal legal aid.

Since September, victims of crimes including rape and sexual assault have been able to pre-record their cross-examination ahead of trial in every Crown Court in England and Wales following a Government-funded rollout of new technology.

This helps victims avoid the stress of giving evidence under full glare of a live trial setting, which many find traumatic.

This latest forecast shows that up to three times as many victims and witnesses could now be supported in this way compared to in the last two years, helping more of them achieve justice and boosting rape convictions.

The increase in fees will see lawyers paid £804, including VAT, for carrying out this work and ensure they are further incentivised to undertake the pre-recorded parts of these trials, potentially boosting capacity further.

Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary Dominic Raab said:

We have overhauled the support victims of rape receive and this latest investment will mean more have their voices heard in court without retraumatising them.

Paying barristers specifically for this work will help make sure more victims have this option and is another part of our work to boost rape convictions.

Pre-recorded cross-examination technology is available to certain victims of sexual and modern slavery offences in all Crown Courts in England and Wales. It is also available to vulnerable victims, such as children and those whose quality of evidence is likely to be diminished because of a mental or physical condition.

Measures allow for evidence to be given as close to the time of the offence as possible while memories remain fresh, increasing the likelihood of vulnerable witnesses achieving justice.

It is designed to maintain a defendant’s right to a fair trial and any decision to pre-record evidence is made by a judge on a case-by-case basis.

This new fee for lawyers taking evidence in this way will apply to all new cases from tomorrow (1 February 2023). It will come on top of existing fees for attending court and ground rules hearings where a judge can consider any special measures for vulnerable victims and witnesses.

This £4 million investment is part of the Government’s £138m annual increase in criminal legal aid spending.

Notes to editors

  • The Government has also announced that pre-recorded evidence will be piloted for children and vulnerable adult witnesses for all offences at Leeds Youth Court, considering how it could be used more widely in trials of under 18s.

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