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Is More Support Needed For Child Victims in Court?

Recently, there have been calls for child victims/witnesses to have the choice whether or not they appear in court.

25 years ago the Government agreed that no young witness should have to give evidence against their attacker in a court room, instead having the choice to appear via video link.

The NSPCC have now released figures stating that 99% of children giving evidence are still required to go to court, and even though they may not come face to face with their attacker, the victims are fearful that they may see them or their family and friends, not to mention the utter distress they are put under during cross examination by defence lawyers.

One young victim who had to appear in court after being sexually assaulted is calling for change as not only did she have to wait 6 months for the trial to start but she also had to face questions from the defence lawyer which she had already answered in a previous piece of video evidence which had already been played to the court.

The victim also states the experience would have been easier had she been told what to expect when she went into the court room. The NSPCC believe improvements could be made via video links so the victim does not have to appear in a court at all.

They also give examples of a number of child abusers who have been able to give evidence via video link from inside a prison. Via a ‘freedom of information’ request the NSPCC have learned that criminals are around 200 times more likely than a child victim to have the choice to appear by video link.

Last year there was a massive 50,000 court appearances all made via video links from prisons, these include prolific child abuse cases such as Ian Watkins, Stuart Hazell & David Minto.

This is compared to a shocking 2503 out of 21,000 young victims who are allowed to appear virtually, this also includes those who had been sexually and physically abused.

Chief Executive of the NSPCC, Peter Wanless commented on the recent reports; “If video links are good enough for those accused of crimes, why are so many child witnesses not given this benefit?” He also labels the process as a ‘gaping hole’ which needs to be plugged immediately.

Peter also states that the courts rightly use video links for criminals as it saves money and increases security, which is lost when transporting a criminal to court, however this should also be used to help vulnerable children who are going through a horrific and terrifying experience.

Alongside the NSPCC’s new ‘Order In Court’ campaign, which aims to ease distress for a child witness, they are also calling for the Government to ensure all child witnesses have the choice of appearing via video link which is set up outside of a court building.

To back up the NSPCC’s argument, last year, Childline received 1200 calls from children who were worried about giving evidence in court.

The NSPCC are now urging people to sign an Epetition asking the UK Government to ensure there is at least one remote site in each region where children can give evidence via a video link. Sign it here.

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