Children in court
Every year thousands of children are victims of or witnesses to crime, and many are profoundly distressed by their experiences. If children's experiences are ignored, or doubted, or if they are made to feel as though they are being punished because of what they have already suffered, this can affect both their recovery and how they view the authority of the criminal justice system. The way in which these children are treated by the adult world helps them to frame their understanding of right and wrong and of the rules which govern society.
Giving evidence in court is very rarely a pleasant experience. Victim Support research has shown that many witnesses find that their time in the witness box is a frightening ordeal. A few say that it is worse than the crime itself. Most of us, if we have suffered or witnessed a crime, report the incident to the police and agree to give evidence knowing that we are performing an essential public duty, and hoping that we will see justice done. When children attend court, they are not necessarily doing so because they want to or feel they ought, but because it has been decided that they are useful for the course of justice. They deserve to be treated with respect and recognition, and to be given particular attention because of their additional vulnerability and special needs.
This report shows that many professionals within the criminal justice system are committed to improve the treatment of children at court. It also shows, however, that there is still much which needs to be done. Victim Support believes it is vitally important that all those who work within the criminal justice system should understand fully the impact of crime on children, and should ensure that further damage is not done to the child by the criminal justice process. We shall be considering our services in the light of this research to look at how we might revise our own policies and practices. We hope that other criminal justice agencies will do the same.
Helen Reeves OBE