LEGAL EAGLE: How to get special measures

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My son who is 14 has been charged with an assault on a boy at school. He has pleaded not guilty but is really worried about having a trial. Some of his friends were witnesses but refuse to go to court. I have now found out that the boy who he is supposed to have assaulted is going to be allowed to give evidence over a TV link. Is there anything we can do about it? Can my son give his evidence in the same way?

For a number of years now both the prosecution and defence can apply for witnesses in criminal cases to give evidence using what are called “special measures”. These can include giving evidence over a TV link, from behind a screen and giving evidence by way of a pre-recorded interview.

Whether special measures are allowed depends on the circumstances of every case – sometimes a witness would be automatically eligible. The law sets out factors to be taken into account e.g. the age of the witness, the circumstances of the case, any medical reasons, whether the witness is particularly vulnerable.

Where a witness wants special measures normally an application is made by the Crown Prosecution Service or the solicitor for the Defendant. If the other side opposes the application there is a hearing when the court decides. Sometimes the court will consider whether special measures should be allowed without an application being made. The important factor is whether special measures would increase the quality of the evidence of the witness.

The law which allows a full range of special measures to be granted for all prosecution and defence witnesses does not extend these to the Defendant. Increasingly however there is a recognition on the part of the courts of the importance of taking steps to assist vulnerable defendants. Specifically there is now provision for Defendants such as your son to give evidence over a TV link if certain conditions are satisfied.

It sounds like the prosecution have made an application for the other boy. Your son’s solicitor can oppose the application. Your son’s solicitor could also apply to the court for both him and any defence witnesses to be granted special measures if that would help them give evidence. You would need to provide quite a bit of information about the witnesses and the reasons they want special measures for that application to be made though.

There are strict time limits during which applications should be made/opposed and so you should speak to your son’s solicitor as soon as possible about this matter.

l Ben Hoare Bell LLP has specialist Criminal Defence Solicitors in Sunderland and surrounding areas that can assist with queries such as this. To speak to a Solicitor please ring 0191 565 3112 or email advice@benhoarebell.co.uk. Visit www.benhoarebell.co.uk for more information.