Live links in criminal proceedings

Part of Prisons and Courts Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 5:45 pm ar 18 Ebrill 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Oliver Heald Oliver Heald The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice 5:45, 18 Ebrill 2017

I understand that hon. Members are concerned, as the hon. Member for Torfaen said, that the Bill will have the effect of making virtual hearings the default mode, but I assure them that that is not the case. Instead, it will enable the use of virtual hearings in a wider range of circumstances to improve accessibility and efficiency. Live link technology is already used by the courts to great effect. It reduces inefficiencies for court users and time-pressed citizens, and it makes the court process less intimidating for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses and young people, as we recently discussed.

Asking the court to give its reasons for not giving a live link direction is the established practice. For example, in respect of an accused person in custody at a preliminary hearing under section 57B(6) of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Although it does not create the presumption that live links must be used, it encourages the court at least to consider whether it would be more proportionate or in participants’ interests to make use of live audio or video link technology. With the status quo of the court hearing there is really no need for that particular measure.

We want to encourage the court and other participants to make greater use of live audio and video links, but at the same time there will be rigorous safeguards in place to ensure that those are used only appropriately and that defendants get a fair hearing. The court will always have the final say on mode of hearing and will need to be satisfied that it is in the interests of justice and compatible with the defendant’s right to a fair trial, having considered representations from the parties and, in the case of young people, the youth offending team.

I hope I have been able to reassure hon. Members that asking the court to give its reasons for not issuing a live link direction is the established practice. It will not have an impact on the court’s determination and it will, of course, provide useful information to Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service on what limitations there may be to the use of live audio and video links, according to the reasons given by the court. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw the amendment.