Report finds process less intimidating and yields better evidence.

  • pre-recording means victims can seek vital support earlier, such as therapy
  • rape cases reaching Crown Court double since launch of Rape Review

Rape victims who pre-record their evidence are more likely to have a better experience of the court process, findings published today (3 April 2023) reveal.

Today’s report finds that victims who use the measure, which has been available in all Crown Courts in England and Wales since September last year, find their experience less intimidating as they do not have to face their alleged attacker in the full glare of a courtroom.

Other benefits include improved recall of events as a result of cross-examination being brought forward, normally nearer to the time of the alleged offence, and knowing exactly when they will need to give evidence. It also meant they were able to access vital support services earlier, such as therapy, without fear that it could be used against them in cross-examination.

The rollout of pre-recorded evidence is one of several actions the government is taking as part of the Rape Review Action Plan to give every victim the confidence to come forward and get support they need, and bring more rapists to justice. Our actions are working, the latest figures show that the number of rape cases reaching Crown Court has doubled since the Rape Review was commissioned in 2019 and that the government is closer to its target of returning to 2016 levels by the end of this Parliament. Pre-recorded evidence will help ensure all cases reaching court are supported in the appropriate way to see justice delivered.

Deputy Prime Minister, Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, Dominic Raab, said:

Pre-recorded evidence is an important part of our plan to improve rape victims’ experience of the criminal justice system – reducing the stress and trauma that many suffer as a result of facing court. This report shows it is making an important and positive difference.

Alongside better collaboration between police and prosecutors and a 24/7 support line we will stop at nothing to make sure that victims feel able to persevere with the process and bring more perpetrators to justice.

Today’s report finds that pre-recording evidence can create a calmer, less intimidating cross-examination experience for witnesses compared to traditional cross-examination in a trial. One witness who had pre-recorded their evidence said:

Making it possible to go and pre-record it, I have no words to explain how much pressure it took from my shoulders.

I feel safe, and I felt like I don’t have to meet anyone I don’t want to meet. I felt protected, just a safe environment to me.

A police officer interviewed for the evaluation report said:

I’ve […] watched the complainant giving evidence and I really felt for that person because they’ve just been pulled apart and in that horrible, hostile courtroom environment which I wouldn’t wish on anyone.

Other practitioners interviewed for the evaluation report – including Independent Sexual Violence Advisors (ISVA), at-trial advocates and police – highlighted the benefit of the witness knowing the exact date and time that they will give evidence, compared to traditional cross-examination where the witness may have to wait in court for days to give their evidence.

The report also found the reduced time between the alleged offence and the cross-examination could improve witnesses’ memory recall. This could be especially beneficial to vulnerable witnesses, particularly children, whose recollection is more at risk of impairment while waiting for trial.

The findings follow the introduction of the Victims and Prisoners Bill which places on a statutory footing the foundations of the Victims’ Code. This means that victims will be entitled to challenge decisions to not charge or continue a prosecution, receive information on how their case is progressing, and be able to access support services such as ISVAs.

The rollout of pre-recorded evidence was a major part of the Rape Review Action Plan to drive up prosecutions and convictions for adult rape cases. Alongside this the government has also:

  • Launched a 24/7 support line run by Rape Crisis for rape and serious sexual violence victims
  • Expanded Operation Soteria to a further 14 police forces and to three new Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) areas
  • Passed new laws via the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act (2022) to stop unnecessary and intrusive requests for victims’ phones, with the majority of forces in position to ensure no victim should be without their devices for more than 24 hours
  • Committed to introduce new legislation on the way the police can request access to personal data from third parties such as medical data
  • Launched a specialist sexual violence support pilot at 3 Crown Courts – Leeds, Newcastle, and Snaresbrook in London. It seeks to provide victims with enhanced at-court support and help increase throughput of cases. It includes the introduction of trauma-informed training for court staff, maximising the use of technology, and access to ISVAs at court
  • Quadrupled victim support services funding by 2025 compared to 2010 levels. This includes increasing the number of Independent Sexual and Domestic Violence Advisors (ISVA and IDVA) by 43% over the next three years taking the total to over 1,000

Taken together these measures are driving improvements across the system. Alongside the doubling in the number of rape cases going to Crown Court compared to 2019, the latest statistics show the key targets of the Rape Review are close to being achieved.

These reveal that police referrals to the CPS and CPS charges, respectively, are up 117% and 94% on the 2019 quarterly average. Police referrals are also up 30% on 2016 levels with charges just 12% below the target the government set for the end of this parliament.

Notes to editors

Emily Hunt, independent Adviser to the Rape Review, said:

Without victims willing to report the worst sorts of crimes and stay engaged with the criminal justice system, we simply would not be able to put dangerous criminals in prison. Section 28 allows the most vulnerable and intimidated victims – like rape victims – to  have an opportunity move forward and move on more quickly from what has happened to them, while staying engaged in the process and it does so regardless of those in the system who would rather just keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. Putting dignity and care at the heart of how the criminal justice system treats victims is crucial, and today’s research report shows how valuable Section 28 can be for this for the victims who are given this opportunity.

  • The number of adult rape cases coming to the Crown Court increased by 8% to 509 cases between October and December 2022 from the previous quarter. This is up by 120% on the 2019 quarterly average (231) and currently 8% below the 2016 quarterly average (553).
  • The volume of adult rape disposals at the Crown Court increased by 64 cases to 324, from 260 in the previous quarter. This follows the end of the barristers’ strikes in October 2022.
  • Pre-recording evidence allows victims and witnesses of crimes such as rape and modern slavery to have their cross-examination video-recorded and played later during trial. This is subject to a successful application to the court.
  • The recording takes place as close to the time of the offence as possible, while memories remain fresh, and helps victims avoid the stress of giving evidence under full glare of a live trial setting, which many find traumatic.
  • Section 28 (s.28) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act (YJCEA) 1999 provides the option for vulnerable and/or intimidated witnesses in criminal cases to pre-record their cross-examination before the trial, so that the s.28 recording can be presented during trial without the witness needing to attend.
  • The intentions of the provision are to reduce the burden on the witness and enhance the quality of their evidence, without undermining defendants’ access to justice.
  • The aim of the research was to explore witness and practitioner views and experiences of s.28 to help understand whether the s.28 provision for s.17(4) intimidated witnesses, eligible for assistance on grounds of fear or distress about testifying, worked as intended. It also aimed to identify which parts of the process were working well and any improvement that could be made.
Published 3 April 2023