Solicitors and barristers are joining up to offer training to help courtroom advocates deal with vulnerable witnesses.

The programme was launched on Friday by both the Bar Council and The Law Society.

As part of the scheme, training will be offered by specially trained solicitors, barristers and judges to all advocates dealing with serious sexual offences. It is expected to be fully implemented by the end of 2018.

Law Society president Robert Bourns said: ‘Witnesses are fundamental to the criminal justice system. Giving evidence can be a traumatic and intimidating experience and the pressure and unfamiliarity of court proceedings for witnesses cannot be overestimated.

‘While significant progress has been made over the past two decades to support vulnerable witnesses during a trial, more can be done. That is why the Law Society is committed to supporting a consistent level of high-quality advocacy.

‘Stress can affect the ability of a witness to tell their story in a courtroom. This training programme ensures that solicitor-advocates and barristers play their part in helping witnesses so they are best able to communicate their evidence. We look forward to working with the Bar Council to develop and deliver this training.’

Chair of the Bar Council Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said vulnerable witnesses should not be subjected to unnecessarily harsh questioning in court. ‘Giving evidence can be difficult or intimidating, especially for vulnerable witnesses, and what they have to say is often vital to the outcome of the case,’ Doerries said.

She added: ‘Using specific techniques for cross-examination helps vulnerable witnesses to feel more secure and means that they are more likely to give their best and most accurate evidence.’