Children in court - Part 1

Summary

Introduction

This study examined the support of child witnesses in the Crown Court provided by the Witness Service. The research, which was carried out between May 1995 and June 1996, evaluated a Witness Service pilot scheme for child witnesses at Court A, where new procedures were introduced, and collected information from Courts B, C and D where procedures for the support of child witnesses were already in place.

Despite budget constraints, it was possible to employ a range of strategies in conducting the evaluation. These included:

Anonymity was guaranteed to all those participating in the evaluation.

Volunteers' questionnaires provided information about 107 young witnesses in 55 cases. The children's average age was 13. Eighty per cent were of white European origin. Children were related to 25 percent of defendants. A total of 83 children gave evidence.

Courts A and B collected additional information about 42 children called as witnesses. A videotaped interview was shown as the evidence-in-chief of 55 per cent of these children. Fifty-two per cent used the CCTV link; 31 per cent gave evidence in open court and 17 per cent were screened.

There were 47 cases at Courts A and B. In 72 per cent of them the principal charge concerned a sexual offence. The outcome was known of 26 trials. Sixty-two per cent resulted in convictions. Sentences were known for 13 convicted defendants, all of whom received a custodial sentence.

The pilot project at Court A

Witness Service training

The views of young witnesses and their carers

The project received responses from 25 parent/ carers in cases at Courts A and B.

Responses were received from a total of 33 child witnesses, though the numbers responding to individual questions varied. Numbers of responses below are expressed as a percentage of those commenting.

Interviews were conducted with the parents of six young witnesses and with three young witnesses themselves.

Matters of concern raised by interviewees included:

The views of Witness Service volunteers

Information from volunteers was received in relation to 107 child witnesses at four court centres. In respect of contact with the child witness, volunteers reported that:

The range of activities offered by the Witness Service varied at the four courts. Key aspects of preparation were as follows:

Support was provided to parents and carers:

Some volunteers communicated information about the child:

Some volunteers accompanied the child while giving evidence:

Volunteers commented on the effect of giving evidence on 34 children:

Proposals



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