A pilot scheme that will allow victims and witnesses to give eveidence ahead of criminal trials will not necessarily make the system as child-friendly as it could be, the NSPCC's head of corporate affairs has said. Alan Wardle added:
We welcome the pilot and hope it paves the way for more children to be spared the ordeal of having to give live evidence in court. The pilot will not necessarily make the system as child-friendly as it could be, but is a positive step - offering children the opportunity to give their evidence and be cross examined in advance of the trial and sparing them the often lengthy wait for a court date which can cause unnecessary anxiety.
However, there is still more work to be done to ensure all young witnesses are supported by a justice system that is truly fit for children.
Vulnerable and intimidated witnesses should get specialist help throughout the criminal justice process, the assistant chief executive at Victim Support has said, as a new pilot scheme allowing evidence to be given ahead of criminal trials is due to be rolled out tomorrow. Adam Pemberton added:
We welcome these pilots because repeated, aggressive questioning of vulnerable witnesses in a packed courtroom cannot be the best way to obtain sound and accurate evidence.
Victims and witnesses are entitled to a fair trial as well as defendants and we believe pre-recorded evidence taken in a less intense environment and when events are fresher in the mind will help level the playing field.
People who have experienced or reported horrific crimes should be given the highest possible level of protection and support, the Victims' Minister said, as a new pilot scheme which allows victims and witnesses to give evidence ahead of criminal trials is due to be rolled out.
Following a visit to Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court, Damian Green said: "If you have experienced a horrendous crime, giving evidence in the pressured environment of a live courtroom, in front of the jury and the public gallery, can be intimidating and perhaps too much to ask.
"That's why we are trying a new approach, the first of its kind, which prioritises the victim."
A pilot scheme which allows victims and witnesses to give evidence ahead of criminal trials starts tomorrow.
The most vulnerable people involved in the courts process will be able to give their evidence and be cross-examined away from the intense atmosphere of a live courtroom, in an attempt to spare them what could be aggressive questioning in front of jury, judge and their alleged attacker.
The Government is initially trying the new approach in three courts with the aim of rolling it out more widely if successful, the Ministry of Justice said.
Prison guards found a mobile phone hidden in a box of hollowed out Weetabix.
Several of the breakfast cereal biscuits had been cut through the middle leaving a hollow where the phone was stashed.
The phone and doctored cereal were then carefully repackaged before being sent to a prisoner.
Inmates are not allowed mobile phones in prison and must use public payphones.
Richard Monkhouse, chairman of the Magistrates' Association, said:
This report from Policy Exchange mirrors many of our suggestions and we are pleased to see that there is a wider view that much greater use can and should be made of magistrates.
However, we firmly believe that the public should be able to see justice in action and having successfully campaigned for out of court disposals to be more open and transparent, it would seem a backward and totally inappropriate step for magistrates to deliver justice in police stations.
Whether these proposals are allowed to be implemented is another matter, but we will work for our members to ensure that magistrates are valued and trusted to develop our role within the criminal justice.
There is currently a two-month delay from the time an offender is charged by the police to the sentence being handed down in a magistrates' court, the think-tank Policy Exchange said.
Max Chambers, head of crime and justice at Policy Exchange, and author of the report, said:
There is no good reason for our criminal justice system to operate in such a leisurely fashion.
Police Courts would mean much swifter justice for low-level crime, reflecting the fact that if a punishment is to be meaningful and actually change behaviour, it has to be delivered very quickly.
Putting magistrates in police stations will also bring much greater oversight to the use of cautions, about which there has been legitimate public concern.
As budgets are reduced dramatically, the courts system will inevitably have to change.
Fewer buildings will be part of the solution, but government must take care to protect the local justice landscape, underpinned by volunteer magistrates, that has served us so well for hundreds of years.
Magistrates should dispense on-the-spot justice inside police stations at peak times, a centre-right think-tank has proposed.
As part of a radical set of recommendations to speed up the criminal justice system and help deliver planned budget cuts of nearly 40%, the Policy Exchange has argued in favour of recruiting 10,000 new magistrates, boosting overall numbers to 33,000.
New magistrates could sit in police stations - including during evenings and weekends - and other community buildings and would oversee out-of-court disposals, which Policy Exchange says accounts for 20% of all criminal cases.
As part of the new plans, those aged 70 to 75 who are summoned would be expected to serve as jurors. However, the Juries Act 1974 still provides for discretionary excusal, where it can be shown that there is good reason why someone should be excused from attending.
Jury service is, and remains, a cornerstone of the British justice system laid down in the Magna Carta almost 800 years ago. Every year, thousands of people give their time to take part in this vital function.
Our society is changing and it is essential that the criminal justice system moves with the times. This is about harnessing the knowledge and life experiences of a group of people who can offer significant benefits to the court process.
The Juries Act 1974 states that only those aged 18 to 70 may be summoned to carry out jury service in England and Wales. This age range was last amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1988, which raised the upper limit from 65 to 70.
People up to and including the age of 75 will be able to sit as jurors in England and Wales under a package of reforms to the criminal justice system.
Currently, only people aged 18 to 70 are eligible to sit as jurors.
Between 2005 and 2012, an average of almost 179,000 people in England and Wales undertook jury service each year. It is estimated that this change would mean up to 6,000 jurors a year, out of the 179,000 average, would be 70 to 75-years-old.