§ Mr. Maclean
The advisory group on video evidence, chaired by Judge Thomas Pigot QC, made a number of recommendations in its 1989 report on the treatment of child witnesses—and other witnesses—in criminal trials. The majority of these recommendations have been implemented.
The Criminal Justice Act 1991 provided, in respect of sexual offences and offences involving violence or cruelty, for pre-trial video recordings to be used as a child's evidence-in-chief at court; for a prohibition on the defendant cross-examining a child witness in person; and for trials involving child witnesses to be transferred direct to the Crown Court without the need for a magistrates court to consider the case. The Act also provided that a child's evidence in criminal proceedings should be given unswom; abolished the presumption that children were not competent as witnesses; and raised the age limit governing a young person's eligibility to be cross-examined via a television link from under 14 to under 17. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 removed the requirement, in sexual offence cases, that the judge warn the jury about convicting on the uncorroborated evidence of the victim.
In addition to the legislative changes, the Government have issued, or contributed towards the production of, a variety of documents and guidance notes to promote ways of assisting those children who become involved in the criminal justice system as witnesses. This includes guidance to magistrates courts on the use of screens, as recommended by the Pigot report, and a memorandum of good practice on video recorded interviews with child witnesses in criminal proceedings. In addition, in January, a video, funded by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Home Office, will be launched offering good practice advice of judges and barristers for handling cases including child witnesses. All these measures are consistent with the Government's policy of giving a high priority to the needs of victims of crime.
The measures that we have implemented are subject to review and research to test their effectiveness. The Government will continue to make further changes where we consider that they will bring improvements to the operation of the justice system.