The Citizens Advice Witness Service is funded by the Ministry of Justice and offers free, independent and impartial support for defence and prosecution witnesses in every criminal court in England and Wales. They provide practical information about the process as well as emotional support to help witnesses feel more confident about giving evidence.
Supporting defence witnesses - by understanding their needs
While the Witness Service supports defence and prosecution witnesses, many in the defence community haven’t made use of the service available. The Witness Service wanted to understand why, so they worked with an organisation called Supporting Justice to find out.
They spoke to defence lawyers to learn what might be preventing them from referring witnesses for support. They found that many defence solicitors and barristers didn’t know about the service or saw it as a prosecution-only service.
By speaking with defence witnesses, they understand their needs better too. Defence witnesses do need and want support, but weren’t aware support was available.
There are real benefits to referring witnesses to the Witness Service
When witnesses feel informed and supported, they’re more likely to attend court - and support can help them feel more confident and able to give their best evidence.
On the day of the trial Witness Service volunteers can also keep defence witnesses informed of proceedings, allowing defence lawyers to spend more time with their client.
What the Witness Service offers - and how defence lawyers can refer their witnesses
Referring witnesses in advance (using the online referral form can help to reassure witnesses before trial. The Witness Service contacts witnesses in advance to offer support and talk them through the process.
Highly trained and dedicated volunteers can show witnesses around court before the trial date so they know what to expect on the day. They also offer a more in-depth ‘outreach’ service to vulnerable and intimidated witnesses - pre-trial support away from court, perhaps in their home, school or community centre.
Volunteers are there to support witnesses on the day too. They provide someone to talk to in confidence (but not about the evidence in the case), information about court and legal processes, support for special measures and emotional support in dealing with the impact and experience of attending court. In most courts they can provide a separate waiting room and meetings rooms for defence witnesses.
For more information about the Witness Service, visit www.citizensadvice.org.uk/witness