Children in court - Part 2
Conclusions and recommendations
Key Point No 1
- Overall the survey shows that while many children are
being prepared for court, there is no consistency in:
- - the availability of preparation;
- - the level of preparation;
- - the person responsible for providing pre-court preparation.
- There is an imbalance in the pre-court preparation being offered to children giving evidence in sexual and non-sexual cases. It is not only the nature of the offence that causes the trauma for the child in anticipating court; their anxiety and fear are also caused by the court process itself and the effect of attending court to give evidence. Child witnesses in non-sexual cases also experience fear and anxiety pre-court, and these needs must be addressed.
i. That consideration be given to the establishment of an overall strategy whereby all children are given equal access to a basic, consistent, appropriate and child-centred level of court preparation country-wide.
Key Point No 2
- While it appears that it is taking less time for some child cases to get to trial, the survey did not examine the effects of the "fast-track" system in any detail. However, the implementation of this system needs to be improved.
- The survey shows that child witnesses are spending an inordinate amount of unnecessary time in the court building before either giving evidence or being released.
- The study shows a large number of children who waited long periods to come to court, came to court and were then not required to give evidence.
i. The length of time all child witnesses are required to wait for trial dates should be kept to a minimum. The implementation of the fast track system should be reviewed with this in mind.
ii. In order to minimise the time spent in the building, it is recommended that:
- all decisions about the trial should be made before any child attends court, and that early decisions should be taken about who is required to give evidence;4
- the child should only be required to enter the building when the court is ready to hear their evidence.
Key Point No 3
- The survey results show that a significant percentage of video tapes are not accepted as evidence, meaning that the child after having made a video tape is still required to give oral evidence.
- There is a decrease in numbers of successful applications for screens, which implies that less protection is being offered to those children for whom no CCTV application has been made.
- Despite the implicit acknowledgement of a child's vulnerability by the accepted use of CCTV in giving evidence, the survey shows that 80% of these children are denied access to personal support in the CCTV room. The technical support afforded by the CCTV link should not be seen as a substitute for personal support.
i.That where possible and appropriate, the individual child's views as to his/her preferred method of giving evidence, should be considered.
ii.That any child using CCTV to give evidence should have access to the same level of personal support that is available to other witnesses. They should routinely be allowed to be accompanied into the CCTV link room by a supporter as well as an usher.
iii. That any assessment about the needs of a child should not be based on the nature of the offence but on the needs of each individual child.
4. The Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, is intended to give judges the power to make a binding ruling at a pre-trial hearing
as to any question of law relating to the case. This will include any question as to
the admissibility of evidence. It is hoped this will reduce the number of
potential witnesses being called to court only to find on the day that their evidence is