Northumbria’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Vera Baird QC, will be addressing a national conference in London on Wednesday 28th January, which will be focusing on the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape.
The conference, which is being hosted by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), will hear from experts in this field, including Director of Public Prosecution, Alison Saunders, Professor Liz Kelly from London Metropolitan University and Vera Baird QC.
Mrs Baird will be speaking about the innovative Court Observers Panel that she has established in Northumbria. The panel, which began its work this month, will now be present at all adult rape trials at Newcastle Crown Court.
It is made up of people with relevant expertise on the topic, drawn from the voluntary and community sectors, including lawyers, and then given special training to take part.
The panel will report back to Mrs Baird in her role as Northumbria Police & Crime Commissioner, particularly noting the unacceptable appearance of any myths and stereotypes in court, such as the suggestion that victims have in some way contributed to what has happened; for instance, by the way they have dressed.
The Court Observers Panel will also consider whether the complainant’s needs are being properly considered in each case, whether the impact of sexual abuse on the ability to testify is being properly taken into account during proceedings and any sense of the victim being tried rather than the defendant.
It will work as part of a new system in tandem with the Rape Scrutiny Panel, which will be similarly drawn from the voluntary and community sectors. The Rape Scrutiny Panel also begins work this month and will examine case files where it has been judged that no crime has been committed, or which were said not to have achieved the required threshold of evidence to be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service. They will also examine failed prosecutions, to look for ways to improve the process for future occasions.
Vera Baird said: “Having to give evidence in a rape trial is very traumatic, and it is important that the courts appreciate this and ensure that the needs of the victim are always considered and that inappropriate questions are myths are dealt with.
“I’m delighted to have the opportunity to share Northumbria’s innovative panel experiences at the CPS. I’m hopeful that delegates present will want to see similar panels in their communities.
“I want these innovations to increase confidence in the process, encouraging victims and witnesses to report incidents, whilst assuring defendants that any improvements in the system will protect them too.”