In August 2016, the NSPCC made Freedom of Information Act requests to the 43 police forces across England and Wales, asking:-
- how many remote video link sites are there in your area that are suitable for child/ vulnerable witnesses to use and are not located in a court building?
- how many times in the last year (April 2015 – March 2016) and the year before (April 2014 – March 2015) have these sites been used by child witnesses?
Video links are amongst a range of special measures which can be made for vulnerable witnesses to enable them to give their best evidence. Other special measures include removal of wigs and gowns by judges and barristers; giving evidence behind a screen in a court room; and evidence being given in private. Video links mean that vulnerable or intimidated witnesses can give evidence without having to be physically present in a court room. All witnesses who are children (under 18) are eligible for special measures.
Responses from 34 out of 43 police forces showed that just over a third of forces do not have remote video links at all.
Of those who do have remote video links, 20 forces said that the links have been used within the past two years, but did not state how frequently or with how many witnesses. Two forces were in the process of setting up the links. Usage of the links varied greatly in different forces, with one confirming that 21 child witnesses used links to give evidence over the past two years, in comparison to another force where it had been used just once.
This means that children giving evidence in court would have to be there in person, risking having to see their abuser.
The NSPCC is currently running a campaign to make the justice system fair, age appropriate and fit for children. You can find out more.