HC Deb 29 June 1999 vol 334 c136
33. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

What discussions he has had with Ministers in the Home Department about the need for ensuring that cases involving juvenile witnesses are dealt with speedily; and if he will make a statement. [87548]

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Mr. Keith Vaz)

It is important that cases involving children as victims or witnesses are dealt with as speedily as is commensurate with the interests of justice. There are a number of initiatives in place to ensure that this objective is met. My officials are in regular and close contact with those of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to identify where improvements might be made.

Mr. Llwyd

I thank the Minister for his reply. It is routine for cases involving child or juvenile complainants to be fast-tracked but it is not routine for child or juvenile witnesses to be fast-tracked. May I respectfully suggest that that should be looked into because it is vital and, in both sets of circumstances, the pressures and problems are alike?

Mr. Vaz

I know that the hon. Gentleman, as a member of the national council of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, has a particular interest in these matters. As from 1 April this year, a national monitoring scheme for cases involving child witnesses has been put in place. Its purpose is to ensure that such cases are dealt with as speedily as possible, and to identify how we might make improvements in the way in which they are handled, including the possibility of fast- tracking, although we must see how the monitoring proceeds. Plans are also under way to introduce a pre-trial check list focusing on children's issues as a means of supplementing the plea and directions hearing form.