The NSPCC's in-house lawyer has attacked a Government Bill for failing to protect child witnesses.
Barbara Joel-Esam complains that the Youth and Criminal Evidence Bill – currently in its Lords report stage – takes away the automatic right of a child to give video evidence, leaving it instead to the court's discretion.
According to the Bill's guidelines, the discretion can be exercised only if the court decides the quality of evidence will be improved, with the witness view only one issue to consider.
This discretion also applies to extra provisions in the Bill designed to provide further protection for child witnesses, including video-recorded cross-examination and examination of a witness through an intermediary.
Joel-Esam says the new measures are welcome, but adds: “Our concern – which we have been briefing Peers about – is that the hurdles that have to be crossed before the provisions are made available to children will be more stringent than those required now.”
She insists that the automatic right of a child witness to give evidence via video unless he or she wants to appear in court must remain.
“If the proposed legislation is not amended there is a real risk that child witnesses will have even less assistance from the special measures, when the intention is that they should receive more,” she adds.