Get involved: Send your news, views, pictures and video by texting SUPIC to 80360 or email us.
Justice could be 'compromised' under videolink plans
Justice could be compromised if witnesses and police are allowed to give their evidence on video screens in court, solicitors fear.
Courts in Sussex are taking part in a Ministry of Justice scheme designed to improve efficiency.
But solicitors say witnesses cannot be properly grilled on their evidence over videolinks and warn defendants could lose out on legal briefings under the system.
The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) yesterday announced that more video technology would be used in Sussex and 12 other areas of the country this year.
It said there will be more opportunity for police officers and “vulnerable and intimidated witnesses” to give evidence to courts by videolink.
The MoJ also said 300 police man-hours were saved in areas where they were allowed to give their evidence remotely from a police station.
But Eastbourne solicitor Rodney Warren, director of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, said proper cross-examination of witnesses using television screens ‘can’t be done’.
He said: “Anything that makes justice simpler and swifter is a good thing.
“But it isn’t always correct to think that witnesses giving evidence over a television link is going to lead to a better decision as to guilt or innocence than those giving their evidence live.
“It isn’t surprising that technology should be used more but we are still feeling our way in it and we need to be sure before decisions are made.”
A spokesman for the MoJ said that judges and magistrates would have discretion over whether police would be allowed to give evidence or should be cross-examined in person.
As well as Sussex, Avon and Somerset, Cambridgeshire, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Dorset, Northamptonshire, Devon and Cornwall, Wiltshire, North Wales, Gwent, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire are to start using live-link services this year.
Essex, London, Kent, Cheshire, South Wales, Hertfordshire and West Midlands already operate live links for officers.
A Sussex Police spokesman said about the project: “We very much welcome it as a way of providing evidence to the courts when court attendance is not needed, thus helping us provide a greater police presence in local communities.”
Justice Minister Damian Green added: “We want the justice system to respond more effectively to the needs of victims, witnesses and professionals.
“Video technology is vital in this and I am extremely pleased that thousands more people up and down the country will be seeing more criminal justice areas and courts making use of the technology.”