Headlines: December 7th, 1998

The Government’s Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill sets out how it plans to reduce offending among young people, and to protect witnesses.It contains a new punishment for the courts to award – referral to a youth offender panel whose task is to prevent first offenders re-offending.

Tasks set by the panel might include making an apology to the victim, carrying out community work or drug rehabilitation.

The Bill will also include a range of measures for vulnerable witnesses including restrictions on the controversial freedom of a defendant to cross-examine their alleged victim personally in rape and other serious sexual cases.

There is further protection for children, to ease the trauma they can experience when giving evidence, including more informality in court, and shielding child witnesses from seeing the person accused while they are in court.

The Home Secretary, Jack Straw, said: “Many victims or witnesses are either too frightened to come forward or are unable to give evidence easily. This allows criminals to go unpunished.