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More rape victims to be ‘spared stress of cross-examination in court’ under Durham scheme

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More victims of rape and sexual violence will be spared the stress of being cross-examined in court under a scheme rolled out to Durham Crown Court this week.

The new courtroom protections are being piloted in the North East and London from September 30.

The measure allows intimidated victims and witnesses of crimes such as rape and modern slavery to have their cross-examination video recorded and played during the trial.

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The Ministry of Justice says this can reduce trauma for victims and witnesses, meaning they can give better evidence.

The scheme will be made available from this week in three Crown Courts in London (Harrow, Isleworth, and Wood Green), as well as Durham Crown Court.

The recording takes place as close to the time of the offence as possible in order to help memory recall and reduce the stress of giving evidence in a courtroom setting, which many find traumatic.

It is already in place in Liverpool, Leeds and Kingston-Upon-Thames Crown Courts, and could be introduced at others across the country subject to further evaluation.

Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor, and Secretary of State for Justice, Dominic Raab said: “Boosting support for victims is one of my top priorities so I’m keen that we use this technology to minimise stress for victims and ensure they can provide their best evidence.

“This is part of our plans to transform the response to crimes against women, better support victims and make sure cases are investigated fully and prosecuted robustly.”

Rachel Nicholas, Victim Support’s Head of Service in London, said: “We welcome the measures announced by the government to improve the court process for victims of abuse in London, especially at a time when the number of survivors of domestic abuse accessing Victim Support’s specialist, community-based services has reached peak levels.

“For a lot of victims, survivors and witnesses, giving evidence in court is a traumatic experience. It’s crucial that they know their rights under the Victims’ Code to apply for special measures to help further reduce the stress of attending court and move on with their lives. “Rolling out this scheme more widely is a welcome step in the right direction.”

The measure is also 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.

The rollout comes in the week that violence against women and girls has been under the spotlight after Wayne Couzens was handed a whole life sentence on Thursday for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.

The Old Bailey heard Couzens had been planning for at least a month before abducting Ms Everard, 33, as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham, south London, on the evening of March 3.

Metropolitan Police firearms officer Couzens, who had been “hunting” for a victim, used his warrant card and handcuffs to snatch the marketing executive off the street using Covid lockdown rules to make a false arrest.

Sarah Everard

Jess Phillips, Labour’s shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said trust in police is “not going to be built back overnight”, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is going to be built up if we see the Government and police forces starting to actually take violence against women and girls, and the complaints that women make day in, day out, seriously.”

And Northumbria police and crime commissioner Kim McGuinness expressed her hopes that outrage over the horrific murder will spark “real change” for women.

She said: “Society is consistently failing women and girls.

“This case shows how horrendous the consequences can be and I am just so sorry Sarah and her family have paid the price of these failings.”

Ms McGuinness added: “Whilst he terrifyingly used his profession to lure Sarah, it was his misogyny that made him a killer.

“We can only hope this is the beginning of real change to protect and make women’s and girls’ lives safer.”

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https://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/news/north-east-news/more-rape-victims-spared-stress-21732322