Pre-Trial Witness Interviews

Background

The Crown Prosecution Service is responsible for deciding whether or not a person who has been arrested for an offence should be charged and whether the offence should proceed to trial. Prior to 2006 Prosecutors had no power to test a witness’s credibility prior to making this important decision. In other jurisdictions however, such as Canada, New South Wales, Australia and Scotland, it is standard practice for a prosecuting lawyer to interview witnesses before trial. On the 20th December 2004 the Attorney General’s report titled “Pre-Trial Witness Interviews” advocated change and as a result a pilot exercise was undertaken by Prosecutors between January 2006 and February 2007. The pilot proved a success and a national rollout of the scheme took place in April 2008.

Do all cases have a Pre-Trial Witness Interview?

No, any Prosecutor reviewing a file can refer a case for a Pre-Trial Witness Interview, where they consider that an assessment of a witness is needed or their credibility is in doubt. The referral is made to a trained pre trial witness interviewer who then reviews the case and makes a preliminary assessment of whether or not an interview is appropriate. The Prosecutor should also consult the Investigating Officer as well as obtain the authorisation of the line manager or the Chief Crown Prosecutor where an interview is considered appropriate.

What type of cases will have an interview?

A Prosecutor may conduct a pre trial witness interview in any case where he considers that it will enable him to reach a better-informed decision about any aspect of the case. In practice this means that an interview can be held where the credibility of a witness is in doubt or where some aspects of the witness’s evidence needs clarification or in complex evidence cases.

Below are examples of the type of cases where an interview could be held:
    Rape – The Prosecutor is unsure about the complainants’ evidence, as there is information in the unused material that suggests she has an ulterior motive for making the allegation.

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For more information on:

  • What type of questioning is allowed?
  • How is an interview held?