PLANS to spare rape victims being cross-examined in court by allowing their prerecorded video evidence to be played to a jury will be introduced in September, Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss said yesterday.
The full introduction of the scheme was originally not scheduled to start until next year but has been brought forward after an agreement with senior judges.
The Ministry of Justice said the move followed a successful pilot scheme, prerecording the evidence of child victims of sex offences in Liverpool, Leeds and Kingston upon Thames.
The children were better able to recall events without the pressure of a courtroom environment, it said.
Ms Truss told the Sunday Times that the pilot had led to a higher level of early guilty pleas and she wanted to see the option of prerecording testimony becoming “the standard offer in those cases.”
She added: “Attitudes to sex crimes and victims have changed beyond all recognition in our lifetime, and rape prosecutions are now at record levels.
“With more victims now finding the confidence to come forward, I am determined to make their path to justice swifter and less traumatic.
“This will not reduce the right to a fair trial but will make sure victims of these abhorrent crimes are protected and able to provide their best possible evidence.”
Ms Truss said the scheme would make ground rules of cross-examination “much clearer” and that any questions deemed inadmissible by the judge could simply be “cut out of the tape.”
But Zoe Gascoyne, chairwoman of the Criminal Law Solicitors Association, told the paper that taped interviews “may be a step too far.”
And James Conte, founder of Accused.me.uk, a support group for victims of false allegations, said the idea would increase the chances of innocent people being wrongly convicted.
Ms Truss also announced a crackdown on paedophiles who use social media to groom child victims online ahead of the new crime of sexual communication with a child, which comes into force on April 3.
The offence, contained in the Prison & Courts Bill, which has its second reading before the Commons today, will carry a maximum two-year prison sentence, with those convicted automatically being placed on the sex offenders’ register.