Live links in criminal proceedings

Part of Prisons and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:45 pm on 18th April 2017.

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Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 5:45 pm, 18th April 2017

Again, I think that, across the Committee, we are seeking to achieve the same result. The Government sympathise with and share the intention behind the amendment. We want young people only to take part in proceedings that use such technology where it is appropriate for them to do so. I will reassure Committee members as to how the provisions in the Bill, and other protections, will achieve that objective.

Under the provisions in the Bill, a court may direct that a young person participate through a video link only where it considers that it is in the interests of justice for that person to do so. In exercising that power, the court also has a statutory duty under section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to have regard to the welfare of the young person. Furthermore, safeguards set out in the Bill will help to make sure that the court has adequate information with which to make that decision.

Schedules 4 and 5 provide that the court can make a direction to use a live link in respect of a young person only where the relevant youth offending team has been given the opportunity to make representations. Overall, it would be considered to be in the interests of justice for a young person to participate in proceedings through a live link where it could also be said that it was in their best interests to do so. The interests of justice test will consider the entire proceedings, and a detrimental impact on the young person would be, in my view, inconsistent with considerations of justice and having regard to the welfare of the young person.

Of course, where the defendant, victim or witness would not give their best evidence through appearing in person in the courtroom, it would likely neither be in the interests of justice or in their best interests to not use a video link. Conversely, where a young defendant’s mental condition is so disturbed that his or her production would be a significant detriment to his or her welfare, it would be difficult to argue that the use of the video link as an alternative—on medical advice—might not be in his or her best interests.

It is also worth noting that the recent amendments made by the Lord Chief Justice to the criminal practice directions of 2015 currently state that it will usually be appropriate for the young person to be produced in person in court. The directions suggest, where it may be appropriate, using video links on a case-by-case basis. They also refer to the need to ensure that the court can engage properly with the youth, and that the necessary level of engagement can be facilitated with the youth offending team, the defence representative and an appropriate adult. Those are the protections in place.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there will be more use of the live link, but I think the key point is that the means through which a young defendant attends court proceedings will be and should be determined on a case-by-case basis. Courts have to consider whether it is in the interests of justice for a young defendant to participate, and I think we can rely on our courts to take those decisions with great care. Personally, I think one of the strengths of our independent legal system is that we have such expertise in our youth courts.

The 2010 study was mentioned, but 2010 is a lifetime ago in modern technology. That study did not cover the range of virtual hearings that we are talking about; it simply covered cases that were dealt with between the police station and the magistrates court. It came out in the evidence that the hon. Gentleman mentioned—many witnesses made this point—that that was not comparing apples with apples. Well, they did not use those words, but that is the way I put it. I therefore ask hon. Members to withdraw amendments 104 and 110.