HC Deb 11 June 2002 vol 386 cc1238-9W
Mrs. Curtis-Thomas

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, pursuant to the answer of 15 May 2002,Official Report, column 700W, on Damilola Taylor, if he will define vulnerable or intimidated witnesses; what his criteria are for this definition; and which agents and agencies he consulted on this definition. [60080]

Hilary Benn

Sections 16 and 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 define vulnerable and intimidated witnesses in terms of their eligibility for assistance from special measures to achieve best evidence.

Vulnerable witnesses are those (other than the defendant) who are eligible for assistance because they are under 17 at the time of the hearing or because the court considers that the quality of their evidence is likely to be diminished for reasons of physical disability, physical or mental disorder or a significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning.

Intimidated witnesses are those who are eligible for assistance because the court is satisfied that the quality of their evidence is likely to be diminished by fear or distress about testifying. The court has to take into account the nature and alleged circumstances of the offence, the age of the witness and any views expressed by him or her, and any behaviour towards the witness on the part of the accused, members of the family or associates of the accused or any other person who is likely to be an accused or witness in the proceedings.

Where relevant, the court must also take into account the witness's social and cultural background and ethnic origin, domestic and employment circumstances and religious beliefs or political opinions.

A complainant in respect of a sexual offence who is a witness in proceedings relating to that offence is also eligible for assistance unless the witness has informed the court that he or she does not wish to be eligible.

The definitions in sections 16 and 17 of the 1999 Act were based on the recommendations of 'Speaking Up for Justice', the report of the inter-departmental working group which is available in the Library and to which I referred in my earlier answer. This contains a literature review and a summary of representations received from organisations and individuals.