Providers and barristers are being encouraged to make greater use of the free Citizens Advice Witness Service which is available to support both defence and prosecution witnesses.
This is funded by the Ministry of Justice and offers free, independent and impartial support and information to all witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales.
Head of the Witness Service Marios Leptos said:
We’re working hard to raise awareness of this vital service among defence practitioners and there is lots of useful information on our website.
Going to court can be a daunting experience for witnesses, particularly individuals who are vulnerable or subject to intimidation.
Using the Witness Service can help witnesses feel more informed and supported, so they’re more likely to give their best evidence. We would urge practitioners to take advantage when preparing their case.
Our service is well-used by prosecution witnesses. But we believe it is too often overlooked on the defence side.
Witness Service has been working with Supporting Justice to gain a better understanding of why the defence community has not been making more use of their service.
Supporting Justice is an organisation specialising in issues affecting victims, witnesses and their needs.
Director of Services for Supporting Justice Rhiannon Evans said:
We found through talking to defence solicitors and barristers that all too many of them either don’t know about the service or see it as a prosecution-only service.
We also spoke to defence witnesses and found that they do need and want support.
Unfortunately, they often didn’t know it was available.
Benefits of referring witnesses to the Witness Service
When witnesses feel informed and supported, they’re more likely to attend court. Support from the Witness Service can help witnesses feel more confident and able to give their best evidence.
The Witness Service can also keep defence witnesses informed of proceedings on the day of trial, allowing defence practitioners to spend more time with their client.
How to use the Witness Service
You can refer witnesses to the service in advance using an online referral form – see link below.
Someone from the service will contact the witness to offer support, talk through the process and possibly arrange to show the witness around court before trial.
Vulnerable and intimidated witnesses
A more in-depth ‘outreach’ service is available for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses. This includes pre-trial support away from court, perhaps in the home, school or community centre.
Volunteers are there to support witnesses on the day too. They provide someone to talk to in confidence and will be able to give information about court and legal processes. However, they cannot discuss case evidence.
Citizens Advice Witness Service
Witness Service online referral form