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Ruling on pre-recorded cross-examination of child witnesses

R v PMH [2018] EWCA Crim 2452

The Court of Appeal analysed the effect of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 s.28 and pre-recorded cross-examination of  child witnesses. The court provided guidance regarding best practice for trial judges and advocates.

Details

The appellant appealed his conviction for sexual offences against a child.  The trial was heard  at one of the pilot courts using pre-recorded cross-examination of a  child witness pursuant to the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 s.28 (YJCEA)

There was no continuity of advocate for the crown or the defence and neither trial advocate had viewed the pre-recorded cross-examination prior to the trial. Due to a fault with the recording, the body and lower face of the complainant were not visible.

The appellant argued that the jury had been unable to assess the complainant’s demeanour and response to questions, that the judge had failed to properly direct the jury regarding the limitations imposed on cross-examination of a child witness and therefore his right to a fair trial was breached.

The court held the faulty recording did not interfere with the appellants right to a fair trial and that, operated properly, section 28 YJCEA 1999 does not undermine the defendant’s right to a fair trial. However, all parties should follow the steps as set out in section 18E of the Criminal Practice Directions 2015 (as amended). The court gave further detailed guidance on best practice.

Commentary

The benefits of pre-recorded cross examination for child witnesses are significant and to be welcomed.  The concern is that child defendants are not able to benefit.