Vulnerable witnesses

Ben Douglas-Jones on 9th October 2014 appeared for the Crown in R v P and R v L a conjoined appeal in which the Vice President set out definitive guidelines for the handling of child and vulnerable witnesses.  The Court held:

  1. Modern practice has changed the way in which witnesses are to be handled.
  2. Following Barker (a specially constituted Court of Appeal) the message has been clear from the Lord Chief Justice and all advocacy trainers: if justice is to be done to all cases where vulnerable witnesses are involved "… a radical departure may be needed". 
  3. "If ever there was a right as opposed to duty to put one's case" - and the Court doubted this – it must be modified for young or vulnerable witnesses.

If a Judge has concerns about a witness's availability to give evidence, questioning concerning competence should take place in the parties' presence.  An intermediary should be considered.  If the Judge is still of the view that the witness should not give evidence he should consider whether the ABE video should be played.