Nicola has welcomed Justice Secretary Chris Grayling MP’s announcement that, for the first time, vulnerable witnesses will have clear rights set out in legislation.
The Government is to create a ‘Victims’ Law’ which will give victims guaranteed legal rights to tell a court how their lives have been affected, as well as establishing a simple source of information and help for victims to follow the progress of their case, apply for compensation and to understand what to expect in court.
Nicola has long campaigned for improvements to the court process following the Operation Bullfinch trial in her Oxford West & Abingdon constituency, in which the widespread abuse of young girls was uncovered and victims came forward to give evidence against their abusers. Nicola attended court hearings saw first-hand how victims could be re-traumatised during the court process. She was shocked at how all too often witnesses were aggressively cross-examined and cast as a liar, a prostitute or somehow responsible for their own abuse and met with victims who told her how distressing they had found the lengthy, confrontational court process.
In the wake of Operation Bullfinch in Oxfordshire, and more recently evidence of child abuse in Rotherham, Nicola has been pushing for court reforms in order to provide greater support for victims.
This was part of Nicola’s ‘Childhood Lost’ campaign, launched last year which has been successful in creating Civil Prevention Orders to enable the police to intervene much earlier to protect victims of child sexual exploitation.
The campaign also called for good quality, specialist training in child sexual exploitation for judges, mandatory good quality training for defence and prosecuting barristers and intermediaries for young or special needs witnesses.
Nicola is pleased, therefore, that this announcement includes plans to require government funded barristers to undergo specialist training before taking part in serious sex offence cases, and that in addition child victims will be able to be questioned away from the court room.
More information on the Childhood Lost campaign is available here: http://www.childhoodlost.co.uk/
Nicola says: ‘Having pressed hard for better protections for victims in our courts system I am delighted that the Government has committed to doing more to support victims of crime.
I have seen first-hand how the court process can re-traumatise a fragile young witness who has to describe, to a roomful of men in wigs, the violent sexual abuse they have been subjected to – sometimes on multiple occasions over many years. It is in the interest of justice that we do all we can to support the most vulnerable witnesses in the most sensitive cases, so they are able to give the best evidence in court, and these reforms are welcome step in that direction. If the court process is less traumatising more victims will come forward, fewer investigations will collapse and more prosecutions will be successful.’