Children in court
Victim Support recommendations arising from the research findings
Victim Support is concerned about the experiences and treatment of children who are called to give evidence in court. Both of these pieces of research, although very different in their focus, highlight the common problems which are routinely faced by child witnesses. One particularly poignant finding from the "Evaluation of Witness Service support for child witnesses" research, reveals that Witness Service volunteers, when commenting on the effect of giving evidence on 34 children, described symptoms of stress for 91% of these children. Such figures are unacceptable and need to be addressed. In response, Victim Support makes the following recommendations:
1. All children attending court as witnesses should receive appropriate preparation, whatever the crime. Cases involving child witnesses need to be identified at an early stage. National guidelines should be drawn up to ensure that children receive the best possible preparation, and that this is provided consistently throughout the country. All those involved in the preparation of child witnesses should receive appropriate training.
2. The length of time child witnesses are required to wait for trial dates should be kept to a minimum. On the day of the trial, children should be allowed to wait at home until they are required at court to give evidence.
3. Children using CCTV to give their evidence should be provided with the same level of support as other witnesses, and therefore should be routinely allowed to be accompanied by a supporter as well as an usher.
4. All child witnesses should receive the same standard of treatment regardless of the nature of the case they are testifying in (at present, children in non-sexual cases are not necessarily identified at an early stage and therefore may not receive adequate preparation or application for screens/CCTV).
5. The needs of individual child witnesses should be communicated by those providing support to the appropriate authorities who are making decisions about the conduct of the case, ie. the frequency of breaks needed, and steps should be taken to ensure that, as far as possible, these needs are met.
6. Judges should ensure that the cross examination of child witnesses is conducted at a level which is appropriate for their age and ability. Judges should intervene if children appear to be confused by the way in which questions are asked.