Rape victims will be allowed to give pre-recorded video evidence to prevent them being intimidated in court by their attackers under plans being considered by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
Ministers are studying the results of a trial of the technology for rape cases at three courts, which are said to have been “positive.”
They are working with senior judges to secure agreement for a nationwide roll-out to help reverse collapsing rape convictions rates which are at a record low as complaints have increased.
It means rape victims would be able to pre-record their evidence, including cross-examination, which would then be played during a trial sparing them the trauma of appearing in court.
It is part of a major expansion of pre-recorded evidence including for victims aged under 18 and those with mental disorders, disabilities or impairments.
Alex Chalk, the justice minister, said: “Vulnerable victims show great courage by coming forward. It’s vital they can do so in the least traumatic way possible. This technology ensures they are protected and are able to give their best possible evidence, without reducing a defendant’s right to a fair trial.”
Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner, said greater use of pre-recorded evidence was essential as increasing numbers of rape victims “gave up on the justice system and walked away” due to the trauma of giving evidence, which had been compounded by court delays.
“Pre-trial evidence and cross examination means that once it has been done, their role in the trial is over. They can move on with their lives and seek help to recover from any trauma,” she said.
It has been piloted at three courts in Liverpool, Leeds and Kingston with rape victims’ evidence recorded as soon as possible after their alleged attacker has been charged.
Prosecution and defence lawyers cross-examine the victim as the judge and defendant watch via a video link from the courtroom. Once the judge is satisfied, the recording is retained until the trial when it can be played to the jury.
It has been targeted at victims who fear being intimidated if they had to give evidence in court and was found not only to reduce trauma but to help with recollecting events.
A trial of the technology in 18 courts for under-age victims and those with mental health problems will also be widened from today (Mon) to all crown courts in London and Kent, as well as some others in the West Midlands, Sussex and Essex.
The technology was successfully used last year in the trial of Primark security guard Zia Uddin, who was convicted after sexually assaulting four teenage girls who had been caught shoplifting in Kingston-upon-Thames.