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New national service supports witnesses at home before trial

18 October 2016

Children and victims of domestic abuse giving evidence as witnesses in court are among those who will now be able to get support before, during, and after a trial, Citizens Advice reveals today.  

The national charity, which provides free practical and emotional support for witnesses in all criminal courts across England and Wales through the Witness Service, is this month set to complete the national rollout of a new outreach service providing extra support to those witnesses most in need.

The new outreach service gives Vulnerable and Intimidated Witnesses, which includes under-18s and people with mental health problems, the option to be visited at home or meet at another safe community location ahead of giving evidence in a trial and after the trial finishes.

During visits a Witness Service 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 then has the option to 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 Citizens Advice Witness Service is run by 2,800 volunteers and 270 staff, who supported 178,000 witnesses between April 2015 and March 2016. The Ministry of Justice has funded Citizens Advice to deliver the Witness Service since April 2015.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said:

“Getting the right support can turn giving evidence in court into an empowering experience.

“We know that attending court as a witness, being cross-examined and facing the defendant, can be very distressing - especially when the witness is also the victim.

“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.

“Our new outreach service will provide the most vulnerable witnesses with a dedicated staff member or volunteer who can visit them at home before the trial starts and support them through every step of the process.”

Sir Oliver Heald QC, Minister of State for Courts, 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 Citizens Advice Witness 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 £1billion investment to modernise our courts and the roll-out of pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable victims and witnesses this will improve the experience of giving evidence.”

Citizens Advice started offering the outreach service to witnesses in police force areas across England and Wales between April and September this year. The outreach service had previously been trialled in the Thames Valley and North Wales police force areas.

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Notes to editors

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local Citizens Advice, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To get advice online or find your local Citizens Advice in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers.
  5. Local Citizens Advice in England and Wales advised 2.5 million clients on 6.2 million problems in 2014/15. For full service statistics see our publication Advice trends.
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 2,500 service outlets across England and Wales.