Youth Justice and Criminal Justice Act 1999

Oral Answers to Questions — Justice – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 21st May 2013.

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Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Labour, Stockport 11:30 am, 21st May 2013

What recent progress he has made on the implementation of section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Justice Act 1999.

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) , The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

The Ministry of Justice is actively looking at the practical issues around implementing section 28 of that Act. Putting victims and witnesses first must be a common goal for everyone working in the criminal justice system. That is why this work has involved us working closely with the judiciary, the police, the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service, and it should be completed shortly.

Photo of Ann Coffey Ann Coffey Labour, Stockport

I thank the Minister for his response. One victim of child sexual exploitation was aggressively cross-examined by seven barristers for three weeks in the Telford trial. Another was repeatedly called a liar until she broke down. Justice is not served by bullying vulnerable witnesses already scarred by their experiences. When does the Minister expect to be able to report further on the implementation of section 28, which allows pre-recorded witness evidence and cross-examination outside court, making the trial process less of an ordeal for victims?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) , The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

I know that the hon. Lady has a long and distinguished record of activity in this area, and I am not asking her to be patient for much longer. As I said in my initial answer, we should come to a decision shortly. This is the last of the Act’s measures to protect particularly vulnerable witnesses to be implemented. I entirely share her concern that, within the confines of having trials conducted properly, vulnerable witnesses should receive proper protection.

Photo of Rob Flello Rob Flello Shadow Minister (Justice)

We accept that section 28 is not easy to implement, but given the many recent appalling cases involving character assassination and the bullying of vulnerable witnesses, is it not now time to implement, as one measure, the approach proposed by many, including the Advocacy Training Council in its report “Raising the Bar”, of introducing compulsory training and certification for barristers in cases of this kind?

Photo of Damian Green Damian Green Minister of State (Ministry of Justice and Home Office) , The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for saying there are practical difficulties in implementing this. We are looking at a range of measures. He will be aware that our consultation on the victims’ code closed only a few days ago, and the Minister for victims, my hon. Friend Mrs Grant, will be publishing a response this summer. Obviously, that must align with the witness charter as well. I hope all these things will come to fruition shortly.