HC Deb 02 July 1999 vol 334 cc308-9W
Ms Drown

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department in what circumstances, under the provisions of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill [Lords], the complainant in a rape trial could be denied screening from the defendant. [89664]

Mr. George Howarth

Under clause 17(4) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill, all complaints in sexual offence trials will benefit from a presumption that they are eligible for help with giving evidence. As the clause is currently drafted, a complainant would be considered ineligible for help if the court was satisfied that the quality of his or her evidence was not likely to be diminished by fear or distress. However, I am considering whether the presumption in clause 17 could be strengthened.

Once a witness is deemed eligible, the court will go on to consider which (if any) of the special measures in the Bill, including screens, would be likely to improve the quality of his or her evidence. If it decides that a measure would improve the witness's evidence, it must award it. In reaching that decision, it will have to consider all the circumstances of the case. Those circumstances include the witness's views, and whether the measure might tend to inhibit the evidence being tested.

So a court could decide that a rape complainant should not be screened from the defendant for one of the following reasons: the witness was ineligible for special measures; the witness did not want to be screened; another measure (perhaps live link, or clearing the court) would be more likely to maximise the quality of the witness's evidence; screens might inhibit the ability of the defence to cross-examine the witness; or, for some other reason, in all the circumstances of the case, the quality of the witness's evidence would not be maximised by being screened from the defendant. Having said that, I would not expect courts to commonly refuse screens for rape complainants who want them.