Professor Penny Cooper

Professor Penny Cooper

Professor Penny Cooper, PhD, is a former practising barrister. She co-founded The Advocate’s Gateway (TAG) in 2012 and trained the first witness intermediaries to support communication with vulnerable witnesses in England and Wales, Northern Ireland and Australia. Penny’s research looks at how witnesses participate in hearings. She is an academic associate at 39 Essex Chambers and visiting professor at Birkbeck, University of London.

Articles by this author


Techniques for questioning vulnerable lay participants

There are vulnerable moments as well as vulnerable people, and hidden vulnerabilities as well as visible ones. So where to start? Research has revealed four guiding principles for advocates to keep in mind: Professor Penny Cooper, Professor Jessica Jacobson and Dr Camillia Kong explain more

13 March 2023

Ten points of effective participation

What promotes/inhibits participation? Penny Cooper examines a new research study and toolkit for those who guide witnesses’ and parties’ participation – now an increasingly significant part of a barrister’s role

22 January 2021

Vulnerable adults in the Court of Protection

Seeking practitioners’ views: important new research will inform recommendations around best practice, policy change and training in the Court of Protection

19 July 2019

Therapy animals and ABE

Australia and the United States are increasingly using animals to support effective participation in courts. Will it catch on over here? Professor Penny Cooper explores the issues to consider in England and Wales

27 July 2018

Clear direction

Cross-examination of the vulnerable witness in R v FA: the Court of Appeal takes the ground rules approach and shows what direction such hearings must take, writes Penny Cooper

“It will never be in the interests of justice that witnesses should be subjected to bullying and intimidatory tactics by counsel or to deliberately and unnecessarily prolonged cross-examination.” - Sir Brian Leveson (2015), Review of Efficiency in Criminal Proceedings, para 264

26 May 2015

Bowler as well as umpire

The recent “Victims’ Law” proposals by Sir Keir Starmer QC throw up the suggestion of judge as inquisitor and challenge our adversarial system. Professor Penny Cooper enters the debate and questions whether judges could or should cross-examine vulnerable witnesses.The recent “Victims’ Law” proposals by Sir Keir Starmer QC throw up the suggestion of judge as inquisitor and challenge our adversarial system. Professor Penny Cooper enters the debate and questions whether judges could or should cross-examine vulnerable witnesses.

Writing under the heading ‘A Voice for Victims of Crime’, the former DPP Sir Keir Starmer QC is rightly concerned about matters which discourage victims from coming forward to report crimes and from subjecting themselves to cross-examination. He chairs a Labour Party Task Force (established in December 2013) which is to come up with proposals for a new ‘Victims’ Law’. He has suggested that a better way forward might be for judges rather than advocates to challenge the accounts of vulnerable witnesses...

16 June 2014
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Face value

Seeing and Believing? Professor Penny Cooper on observing witness and defendant demeanour

On September 16 2013 HHJ Peter Murphy gave a ruling in R v D (R) in relation to the wearing of a niqaab by the defendant during proceedings in the Crown Court. This first instance decision was widely reported in the media and generated discussion about religious freedom (though the judge found that the wearing of the niqaab was not a religious requirement) and to a lesser extent discussion about observing witness and defendant demeanour.

31 October 2013
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Making it meaningful

David Wurtzel and Professor Penny Cooper examine how to ensure the effective participation of vulnerable defendants in a trial

On 12 October 2010, Jordan Dixon, along with two co-defendants, was convicted of murder following a trial at the Old Bailey. A year before, on Halloween, Dixon and the two others came across a young man and his girlfriend in a town centre. One of the other defendants took part of the woman’s Halloween costume, stamped on it, and then spat. When her partner remonstrated, he was punched to the ground where he was kicked in the head. He died shortly afterward. All three defendants landed a blow; medical evidence could not establish who had been responsible for the fatal one. The most compelling evidence at trial came from the CCTV images which were played repeatedly. The jury found all three guilty on a joint enterprise basis. When the matter came before the Court of Appeal in March 2013, Dixon’s appeal against conviction was upheld (R v Dixon [2013] EWCA Crim 465). The real legal interest in the decision though concerns the question of the effective participation in his trial of a vulnerable defendant and of the value of a Ground Rules Hearing. The authors attended the appeal.

31 July 2013
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Re-writing the Victims' Code

Penny Cooper reports on plans to revise the Victims’ Code and enhance entitlements for the vulnerable.

In February 2013, Frances Andrade committed suicide a few days after giving evidence in the Crown Court. Within days of the verdict, Helen Grant MP, the Minister for Victims and the Courts, held a roundtable meeting at the House of Lords. Those present included representatives of the CPS, the Ministry of Justice and HMCTS as well as the Chairman of the Bar and the author representing the Advocacy Training Council’s Vulnerable Witness Committee. Discussions focused on support for complainants in sexual abuse cases and improvements to the Victims’ Code. The coalition had previously made a commitment to reviewing the code and work was already under way. The revised Victims’ Code (“the 2013 draft”) became available on 29 March (https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/code-victims-crime) with consultation running until 10 May.

30 April 2013
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Barren Lands?

junebarrenIs the world of legal expert witnesses becoming deserted?  Has Jones v Kaney [2011] UKSC 13, in which the Supreme Court abolished their immunity from actions for breach of duty, made matters worse? Penny Cooper examines the case…



31 May 2011
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Justice at the polls

The Chair of the Bar launches a Manifesto for Justice as campaigning gets under way

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