Lawyers will receive specialist training before taking part in sexual abuse or rape trials, under government plans to make going to court easier and less distressing for victims.
The move follows growing calls for legal advocates to be better prepared to deal with sensitive cases, and comes just weeks after a damning report highlighted the extent of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
In addition to specialist training for lawyers, a new law will guarantee certain entitlements for victims, previously set out in the Victims' Code – a code of practice for victims of crime.
This will include the right to make a personal statement and ask to have it read aloud in court; automatic referral to support organisations; information about individual cases at each and every stage; and an assessment of victims’ needs at the earliest opportunity.
A new Victims’ Information Service will also be set up, including a helpline to make sure victims are guided to nearby support; and a website where they can find information about services in their area, restorative justice, the criminal justice system, and their rights.
Meanwhile, courts will be modernised to include separate waiting areas for victims, and all vulnerable victims and witnesses will also be given greater opportunity to give evidence away from the court building.
The Ministry of Justice has also said it will work towards rolling out pre-trial cross examination for child victims nationally, subject to the evaluation of on-going pilots in three areas that launched last December.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “Our criminal justice system can be daunting, and victims, especially the most vulnerable, can find it traumatic and difficult to know where to turn to for advice and support.
“For the first time we will create a system that puts the highest emphasis on victims’ needs and sets out their rights clearly in legislation."
The government has also announced the opening of two new rape support centres in order to provide more victims of sexual assault and rape with local support.
The new centres, opening in Grantham, Lincolnshire and Crawley, West Sussex offering victims access to expert advice, support and counselling, mean the government has met its commitment to open 15 new support facilities across the country since 2010.
Story Courtesy of Children & Young People Now