Serious offences involving vulnerable witnesses – from police station to court

Section 28 of the Youth Justice & Criminal Evidence Act permits video recorded cross-examination and re-examination of vulnerable witnesses. In short this permits all evidence to be recorded before the trial which will then be played in Court. The vulnerable witness will not therefore be required to attend Court to be questioned at trial.

At Emery Johnson Astills we are highly experienced in defending serious offences involving vulnerable witnesses. We regularly deal with offences of rape, sexual assault, sexual activity with a child, child neglect and serious violence offences, all involving vulnerable witnesses, both at the police station stage and through the Courts. Vulnerable witnesses are not solely children, but could also include those with mental health issues.

Given the early stage at which cases under s.28 are prepared for trial an added importance can be placed on what happens at the police station stage as this is ultimately the first opportunity for any defendant to give their version of events. Although it is not always advisable for a client to answer questions in police interview. Here at Emery Johnson Astills our dedicated police station representatives are alert to the issues concerning vulnerable witnesses and are available around the clock to attend police interviews to provide independent, free and confidential advice.

Should the matter proceed to Court the Crown Prosecution Service will identify whether the case is one which will fall under s.28 at the first hearing. Directions will then be given for the legal teams to prepare their cases. Ground rules will be set for the way in which the video recorded questioning will be conducted. These directions may deal with the manner to be adopted by the advocate in questioning, the duration of the questioning, topics to be discussed in questioning, and the use of any aids to assist in questioning. More importantly there is no longer the right to put one’s case, and the rules on questioning set by the Court could limit a defence advocate’s ability to successfully cross-examine a witness as they would usually be able to.

In s.28 cases there is therefore a large amount of case preparation to be conducted at an early stage requiring a high level of commitment to the case by advocate and litigator to successfully progress a defence. It is therefore imperative that the client be aware of the timescales involved and fully co-operate with their legal teams so that the necessary issues can be addressed in the video recorded cross-examination prepared before the trial date. At Emery Johnson Astills our experienced advocates and legal clerks are proactive in engaging our clients in the case at an early stage and keeping them updated throughout, explaining Court procedures and the strengths and weaknesses in their case in a clear and coherent way.

For further information and advice regarding any of the issues discussed within this article, please contact the Criminal Law Team at Emery Johnson Astills on 0116 255 4855.