Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird will today open the region's first remote evidence suite, designed to make vulnerable or intimidated witnesses more comfortable.
The suite is away from Newcastle's crown court building, in another part of the city and will offer the possibility, subject to a judge’s consent on a case-by-case basis, to give evidence to the court and be asked questions from the suite, over a live television link. This can help to give confidence to complainants who are vulnerable or intimidated that they may never need to go to court.
It is expected that more people who have doubts about giving evidence will feel able to do so if they are allowed to use this location. It is in the public interest that victims and witnesses of crime should testify if they can
The suite was funded by Home Office's Innovation Funding, secured by Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird, to help improve the criminal justice experience particularly for children and vulnerable adults.
Ms Baird said: "I am pleased to have won funding from the Home Office to open one of the first suites of this kind right here in Northumbria. My responsibility to work with partners for an efficient and effective criminal justice system and the force's victim focus have come together to make sure that, subject to judicial agreement on a case-by-case basis, complainants who are vulnerable or intimidated by the prospect of going to court can still give evidence.
"They can use this new suite to talk to the court over a television link from pleasant and secure surroundings. It should encourage more people to agree to give testimony and limit the opportunities for any interference and more offenders are likely to be brought to justice as a consequence."
Superintendent Mick Paterson, who has been leading the project for Northumbria Police, said: "I am delighted to see the suite up and running. This is an excellent achievement for all those who have been involved in making this happen. The team has worked hard to ensure that this site is as welcoming and comfortable as possible for vulnerable witnesses and complainants.
"This really does put them at the heart of what we are trying to achieve and I hope it encourages more people to come forward with confidence to report any sort of offence they have been subject to. It can be hugely traumatic for anyone to go through the court process. This is an opportunity to help alleviate some of the stress and pressure these people are going through.
"We hope to be able to introduce more sites across the force area and continue to provide the best possible service to complainants and witnesses."
Judge Sloan, the Honorary Recorder of Newcastle, said: "Many witnesses who give evidence at court are vulnerable, for instance, by virtue of age, or because of mental impairment or physical disability or because of an ordeal suffered. For such witnesses, attending a court building can be a particularly traumatic experience, thereby diminishing the quality of the evidence they are able to give.
"The provision of a remote link site is an extremely welcome initiative. All those who have brought this project to fruition are to be congratulated for the vision they have shown and for the hard work they have undertaken. The remote site will provide a much less intimidating environment for many vulnerable witnesses (who will no longer be required to attend a court building at all) and should serve to reduce the levels of stress and distress which can be experienced by such witnesses when participating in the trial process."