Children in court

Introduction

Victim Support is the national charity which helps crime victims. Staff and trained volunteers based in local schemes provide emotional support, information and practical help to people who have suffered crimes ranging from burglary to the murder of a relative. We also work to increase understanding and awareness of the effects of crime and to gain better recognition of victims' rights.

Victim Support has done much to highlight the effects of crime on children and to develop ways in which they can be helped through their ordeal. The Children's Project, which ran from 1988 to 1990, aimed to examine how crime affects children and to develop support methods to assist their recovery. In 1992 Victim Support commissioned two reports to highlight the work of the project. "Child victims: crime, impact and criminal justice", J. Morgan and L. Zedner, from the Oxford Centre of Criminological Research, examined the experiences of over 200 children. The report showed how frequently children are affected by crime, with the researchers finding that 90% of children who had suffered a crime were badly disturbed by the experience. The report "Children as Victims of crime", Victim Support Bedfordshire, examined the needs of children as victims of crime, reviewed existing resources and assessed the contribution that could be made by Victim Support. As a result we have developed our working practices in local schemes to take into account the needs of children as victims of crime.

In 1988 Victim Support convened a working party to look at the problems faced by witnesses in court and what role we might play in addressing them. This was followed by a research project which led to the development of Victim Support's Witness Service, which offers help and support to victims, witnesses and their families. The Witness Service is now established in every Crown Court centre in England and Wales. It assists people before, during and after the trial providing information and emotional support. Witness Service volunteers will, for example, arrange for someone to visit an empty court-room in advance of the trial, give information on court procedures and provide someone to talk to in confidence.

However, Victim Support has become increasingly concerned about the particular difficulties faced by children giving evidence in court. We are, therefore, keen to support these two new pieces of research, which examine the needs of child witnesses and consider how Victim Support can best develop its role in this challenging area.

This document contains two very different research reports, which have been published in their entirety as discrete documents:

"Evaluation of Witness Service support for child witnesses", J. Plotnikoff and R. Woolfson. This study examines the support for child witnesses provided by Victim Support's Witness Service. Victim Support commissioned professional researchers to conduct the research between May 1995 and June 1996.
"An analysis of the treatment of children as witnesses in the crown court", J. Chandler & D. Lait. This research developed from the concerns which the writers, both Witness Service co-ordinators, had about the variations in practice in the treatment of child witnesses which exist in courts around the country.
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