DPP proposes witness changes

Alison Saunders defends plans after lawyers warn against new guidelines 

By Dods Group

19 Jan 2015

The Director for Public Prosecutions has defended plans to warn witnesses if they are likely to be questioned about their sexual history or character after a warning from barristers.

New guidelines out for consultation say that victims should not be “ambushed” and be informed of the nature of the defence’s case and the procedures of the court.

Tony Cross, the chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, described the aims of the guidelines as “laudable”, but warned that they could have a major effect on barristers’ ability to pursue prosecutions.

He told the Today programme: “There is one section of the consultation which is deeply concerning, both for prosecuting barristers and for defence barristers who conduct these cases. That is the suggestion that the prosecutor should provide assistance for cross-examination to witnesses.”

But Alison Saunders, the head of the Crown Prosecution Service, stressed that any advice would be “very generic”.

“What we’re absolutely not saying in the guidance is that we should be coaching or training the witness in any way. It’s very clear about only talking to them in very general terms,” the DPP told the Today programme.

“...And of course the criminal justice system isn’t a game; it’s not about ambushing victims and witnesses, it’s not about playing a memory game," she said. "This is about helping them give the best evidence, which is in everybody’s interest.”

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