Witness Service supports 52,000 witnesses despite Covid challenges

Despite the significant challenges posed by the pandemic, the Citizens Advice Witness Service supported almost 52,000 witnesses to give evidence in criminal courts in the last year. The figures are from a report detailing the impact of the service, released today.

While the pandemic meant fewer criminal cases were brought to trial - meaning fewer witnesses needed support - witness feedback about the service remained overwhelmingly positive. In a post-trial feedback survey, speaking about the Witness Service: 

  • 98% of witnesses said they were helped to feel welcomed and supported in court

  • 96% said they were helped to feel safe

  • 96% said they were helped to feel more informed about the court process

  • 90% said they were helped to feel more confident about giving evidence 

In addition, the Witness Service supported a higher proportion of victims of crime in the last year, compared to the previous year. Over 80% of those supported were victims of crime, compared to 65% in the same period the year before. This reflected the focus of the criminal justice system on prioritising high-priority, sensitive, or otherwise urgent cases while court capacity was limited.

On top of this, despite challenges with meeting witnesses face-to-face, the service adapted rapidly to deliver a consistent level of pre-trial meetings. In total, 6,380 pre-trial meetings were carried out. Almost half (45%) of these were by phone or video call, a method used by the service for the first time in 2020.

Gina Perkins, Head of Funded Services, said:

“Our staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to help witnesses give their best evidence in these extraordinary circumstances. Today’s figures show how the service has responded and adapted through this time of upheaval.

“We’ve all had to make changes in our personal and professional lives to weather the challenges imposed by coronavirus. The Witness Service and the entire criminal justice system has been no exception.

"We’ll continue to play a key role as the justice system returns to business as usual. And our work in supporting witnesses to contribute effectively will help limit delays, improve the quality of evidence given, and support trials to go ahead as planned.”

Notes to editors

  1. The full report can be found on the Citizens Advice website.

  2. Funded by the Ministry of Justice, the Witness Service provides free, confidential practical and emotional support for witnesses attending trials and hearings in every criminal court in England and Wales. The Witness Service supported 51,729 witnesses between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021. This compares to 97,033 witnesses in 2019/20.

  3. Witness feedback figures are sourced from the findings of the Witness Experience Survey (offered to every witness after attending a trial) and a quarterly follow-up survey (sent to witnesses after the trial has closed and Witness Service support has been completed). In total 3,039 people completed the Experience Survey and 1,860 people completed the follow-up survey.

  4. Vulnerable and intimidated witnesses are defined in section 16 YJCEA and section 17 YJCEA respectively.

  5. The Witness Service’s 300 staff and 2,500 volunteers provide support in every Crown and magistrates court in England and Wales. The Witness Service supports prosecution and defence witnesses, victims of crime, people bereaved by homicide, and victims and survivors of domestic abuse (through its Family Court Domestic Abuse Service).

  6. Citizens Advice is made up of the national charity Citizens Advice; the network of independent local Citizens Advice charities across England and Wales; the Citizens Advice consumer service; and the Witness Service.