The new video link, which will operate out of the county’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC), will mean children who have been abused, victims of rape and sexual assault and some domestic abuse victims will be able to give their evidence directly to the Crown Court in Luton without having to see their assailants in person.
“This is the very first project I have commissioned with my Victims’ Fund and an absolute priority for me as PCC. It seems obvious to me that the trauma of sexual crimes and the stress of a court case are increased by the prospect of encountering the very person who committed these crimes or those who are accompanying them. This is an investment in care of the most vulnerable victims who have suffered some of the most serious crimes possible and part of the duty of care I feel towards them as Commissioner,” said Commissioner Holloway.
The benefits of the Live Link service will mean victims do not have to attend the Crown Court and are giving evidence in a supportive environment with their Police Independent Sexual Violence Advisor to hand and can be accompanied by a third party of their choice in the room.
“The law changed to allow this in 2003 and, since then, it’s been very widely accepted in policing and among victim support groups that by allowing such vulnerable victims to present their evidence to court from a safe setting, in a remote location, it very substantially cuts back on the stress of the whole process and, importantly, allows them to give their best evidence which helps achieve the best outcome for both them and for justice. I was determined to offer the service as soon as practically possible in Bedfordshire. I hit the green button this week and asked the Force to order the kit immediately. The speed of the project will depend on BT Open Reach getting the line set up quickly but I genuinely hope to be bringing about this change in weeks not months,” said the Commissioner.
Kent Police were the first to introduce such Live Link evidence and have proved that it increases the willingness of victims to support prosecutions and to give evidence to the court by as much as 25%. Over 60% of victims there said they preferred the experience of giving evidence remotely as opposed to attendance of courts in person although this choice will also be offered to victims.
The £27,500 Live Link service will link directly to the Prison Court Video Link network. It is the first stage in the Commissioner’s Plan to minimise repeat interviews of sexual assault victims, particularly children, and following discussions with the Children’s Commissioner, she is aiming to negotiate with the judiciary to see whether interviews recorded with such victims might be permitted as evidence with a child psychologist asking the questions and a judge overseeing the process, where the accused intends to make a non-guilty plea, so that such victims can go straight on the counselling help rather than waiting to have such support after the court process is complete, along the lines of the Barnahus model introduced successfully in Iceland and Scandinavia and backed by the Home Office.