The Ministry of Justice has given its backing to a new Citizens Advice initiative that provides support to vulnerable witnesses at home.
Justice minister Sir Oliver Heald said Citizens Advice’s outreach service, which is being rolled out nationally, provides ‘fantastic support’ helping people understand the trial process better.
Vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, such as children, victims of domestic abuse and people with mental health issues, are given the option to be visited at home or meet at a safe community location ahead of giving evidence in a trial and after the trial concludes.
A volunteer or staff member talks the witness through what they should expect on the day of the trial, as well as their rights, who will be in court, and the reasons that a trial might not go ahead.
The witness can then visit the court building before the trial, and the same volunteer or staff member will support the witness when they attend court to give evidence.
The service is part of the charity’s Witness Service programme, which receives £12m a year in MoJ funding. The programme was established in April last year.
Heald said: ‘Giving evidence can be hugely intimidating for victims and witnesses of crime, but the bravery they show in coming forward is vital to deliver justice.
‘The [service] provides fantastic support helping people to better understand the trial process and I encourage more volunteers to take part in this rewarding work.
‘Together with our £1bn investment to modernise our courts and the rollout of pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable victims and witnesses this will improve the experience of giving evidence.’
The service, which is run by 2,800 volunteers and 270 staff, has already supported 178,000 witnesses between April 2015 and March this year. Citizens Advice expects to complete a national rollout this month.
The charity’s chief executive, Gillian Guy (pictured), said getting the right support can turn giving evidence in court into an empowering experience.
She added: ‘The witnesses we help value speaking to someone in person about what to expect before a trial starts – but for some of the most vulnerable witnesses, like young children, it can be more effective to provide this support in a familiar setting like their home.’