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1.5.4 Child Witness Support

Contents

  1. Child Witness Support
  2. Referral
  3. Role of a Child Witness Supporter


1. Child Witness Support

ABE guidelines state that all children and young people (up to the age of 18 at the time an alleged offence occurred) who are required to attend a criminal trial either as the aggrieved or as a witness should be given support and preparation prior to the trial.

The provision of such support and preparation can help to ameliorate the possible stress and trauma of appearing as a witness and can aid the child witness in giving their best evidence.

Preparation of a child witness must be undertaken by an adult who does not know the family and who is independent of the investigation in which the child witness is concerned.

Under the terms of a protocol agreed between Brighton and Hove, East Sussex County Council and the Volunteer Witness Service child witnesses appearing in relation to the following categories of offences will be supported by the Brighton and Hove Children’s Service scheme:

  • Sexual crimes;
  • Physical abuse within the family;
  • Serious violent offences;
  • Other children 18 and under who may have additional needs (e.g. learning disability, mental health issues).

Only supporters who have completed the joint Brighton and Hove Council, East Sussex County Council and Volunteer Witness Service Child Witness Support training will undertake the support and preparation of child witnesses in the above specialist areas.

The Volunteer Witness Service based at the Crown Court has trained volunteers to support child witnesses appearing in trials involving other offences.


2. Referral

The co-ordinator for Child Witness Support, will receive appropriate referrals via the Witness Care Unit and the Witness Service based at Lewes Crown Court. Referral is made when a trial date has been fixed.

The following information is supplied by the Witness Care Unit:

  1. Child’s date of birth;
  2. Child’s gender;
  3. If the child is a victim or witness;
  4. The relationship, if any, to the alleged offender;
  5. The name of the alleged offender;
  6. The type of charge;
  7. If the child has any special needs;
  8. Child’s address and who the child lives with;
  9. Whether other members of the family are also witnesses;
  10. Trial date if known yet.

The co-ordinator will identify an appropriate witness support worker for the child. The co-ordinator will check any other available information held on the family to make a risk assessment in relation to the witness support worker’s contact with the family.

The co-ordinator will inform CPS, Witness Care Unit, Police, Social Worker with relevant case responsibility or the duty team and the Witness Service which supporter has been allocated the case and their contact details.

The supporter will liaise directly with these agencies when necessarily. However, under no circumstances should the supporter become involved in discussing the child’s evidence or the evidence of any other witness. If there are issues requiring resolution the co-ordinator will liaise with agencies in the criminal justice system where appropriate.


3. Role of a Child Witness Supporter

The supporter’s role is to:

  1. Establish a relationship with the child and carer (whilst ensuring there is no discussion of the evidence);
  2. Support the child through their appearance at the trial with a view to enabling the child to give his/her best evidence;
  3. Allow the child to express his/her fears and apprehensions about going to court. Ensure that a referral is made for pre-trial therapy if this is indicated;
  4. Share information:
    • On courtroom procedure; 
    • On roles and duties of all courtroom participants; 
    • Take the child step-by-step through what will happen in court, particularly with reference to cross examination; 
    • Demystify legal jargon; 
    • Suggest relaxation techniques.
  5. Liaise on behalf of the child with the other agencies: social worker, police, Witness Care Unit, C.PS and court personnel;
  6. Check that Special Measures i.e. the use of video link or screens in court are appropriate, and that they have been applied for (application is the responsibility of the police officer in the case or Witness Care);
  7. Keep the Crown Prosecution Service up to date about the child’s physical and mental wellbeing which may impact on how the child is enabled to give their evidence. Inform the CPS any changes which may bring the child’s ability to be a witness into doubt. This information and notes of the content of each meeting with the child should be passed to the CPS and Witness Care in writing;
  8. Set up a pre-trial visit to the court for the child and their carer and accompany him/her on the visit;
  9. Liaise with the Police to ensure the child has the opportunity to view their video prior to going to court for the trial;
  10. Accompany the child to court for the trial;
  11. Work with an Intermediary where one is appointed to assist the child with communication.

The supporter must keep notes of his/her contact and work with the child. He/she may be called to give evidence on this.

After the trial the child should be visited again, at least once, to follow up any issues that may have arisen for the child as a result. If after the visit it is considered that the child requires further follow up work, the child should be referred back to the worker with case responsibility, referred to Front Door for Families and Assessment Services duty or signposted towards appropriate support.

End