Growing concerns about the use of court rooms, and their impact on victims and quality of evidence have emerged this month, with the publication of a damning new report. The document also confirms that victims of rape routinely feel that the court experience leaves them more traumatised than the sexual violence they’ve suffered.
The report, which was organised by The Rape Crisis Network Ireland, and produced by the Vulnerable Witnesses MultiAgency Group, explains that modern psychological research doesn’t support the current view that live evidence produces the best quality evidence, and that much better results would be achieved through pre recording a statement soon after a complaint is made.
The document also observes that the current system relies “too much on memory and performance on a given day, years after the event and on the ability to articulate simple answers swiftly, clearly and unambiguously to complex, sometimes unclear, or even occasionally misleading questions.”
The research Group goes on to recommend the use of pre recorded evidence as a better alternative to live, face to face evidence giving, including evidence given via live video feeds. The report comes at a time when child rights campaigners are calling on the government to stop rolling out live feeds in court for child witnesses, warning that the practice increases the risk of wrongful convictions and unfair sentences.
The report, which was published in March, also suggests that pre-trial hearings should be placed on a statutory footing, and should be the primary means through which special protection needs are determined.
The measures in the report aim to reduce the traumatic elements of the court process, and deliver the best possible evidence available, and are designed to support vulnerable witnesses, for example those with intellectual disability or mental health difficulties as well as victims of sexual or domestic violence. The measures would also support and protect child witnesses.
Along with the publication of the report, a conference held in Dublin this month, hosted by the Irish Council of Civil Liberties, the Bar Council and the Law Society, confirmed that the court experience leaves victims feeling re-traumatised. Maria McDonald, a lawyer present at the conference, called for measures to be introduced such as allowing vulnerable witnesses and children to bring comforting objects like teddies with them to court, to have in their possession whilst being questioned, which at the very least could act as a supportive interim measure until evidence giving in court rooms is properly reviewed.
Researching Reform warmly recommends the measures in the report, and we hope that they will be considered, and piloted, in criminal and family courts around the UK.