The Gold Medal for Best Letter 2017: Pre-Trial Cross-Examination for Vulnerable Witnesses: An Idea whose Time had Come

AuthorAlan Cusack
PositionBCL, LLM, PhD Candidate and IRCHSS Scholar, University College Cork
[2017] 16 COLR 123
Alan Cusack*
Dear Editor,
Last month, in one of her first public acts as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice,
Elizabeth Truss launched a joint paper which sets out the Ministry of Justice’s vision for the
future of the English justice system.1 The vision, according to the paper, is ‘to modernise and
upgrade our justice system so that it works even better for everyone, from judges and legal
professionals, to witnesses, litigants and the vulnerable victims of crime’.2
One of principal reforms which is to be introduced as part of this ameliorative exercise is the
admission of pre-trial cross-examination.3 Under the scheme, vulnerable victims and witnesses
will be spared the ordeal of having to appear in court. The scheme envisages that, rather than
being required to undergo the orthodox practice of live cross-examination before a jury, such
witnesses will instead undergo private cross-examination at an earlier stage in proceedings. A
video recording of these exchanges will then be played for the jury at the eventual trial thereby
sparing vulnerable persons the stress of reliving traumatic events in open court. The move to
introduce this measure comes following the successful implementation of pre-trial cross-
examination on a pilot basis in three Crown Courts in England.4 According to the joint paper, the
* BCL, LLM, PhD Candidate and IRCHSS Scholar, University College Cork.
1 Ministry of Justice, Transforming Our Justice System: By the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and the
Senior President of Tribunals (Joint Statement, Ministry of Justice September 2016).
2 ibid 3.
3 It should be noted that the use of pre-trial cross-examination has been statutorily prescribed in England and Wales
since 1999 under section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. However, at the time of writing,
this provision has yet to be legally implemented.
4 The chosen Crown Courts for the pilot scheme were Liverpool, Leeds and Kingston-Upon-Thames. For a greater
exploration of the formalities associated with the pilot, see Judiciary of England and Wales, Judicial Protocol on the

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