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Report on young witnesses in the criminal courts

Falling short? A snapshot of young witness policy and practice, Joyce Plotnikoff and Richard Woolfson, NSPCC, February 2019

Researchers revisited an NSPCC report called ‘Measuring up? Evaluating Implementation of Government commitments to young witnesses in criminal proceedings’ (2009) to asses what progress has been made in the decade since its publication.

Details

The authors of the new report conducted research with 272 criminal justice policymakers and practitioners and made the following findings:

  • There have been improvements since 2009 but children are still at risk of negative experiences and being re-traumatised.
  • Children who had more positive experiences of the witness process received specialised support. This included having a communication assessment; visiting court before the trial; and being able to choose how and where they gave evidence.
  • Having to wait a long time for a trial can cause children anxiety and stress, and affect their ability to give a clear account of what has happened to them.
  • However, not all children were given access to registered intermediaries, and respondents felt the questioning of children still varied significantly.
  • The government has not delivered on its commitment to make training on working with vulnerable witnesses mandatory for advocates.

Commentary

Having to attend court is difficult for child witnesses for a multitude of reasons. Why is it that child defendants are not automatically afforded the same protections and what is the impact of our failure to protect them in the same way?