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Prosecutors to give more court guidance to witnesses and crime victims

Published 11/09/2015

Witnesses are often worried about the process of giving evidence
Witnesses are often worried about the process of giving evidence

Witnesses and victims of crime are to be given more information by prosecutors about what to expect at court despite concerns it may lead to accusations of coaching witnesses.

In a pilot scheme to start in October, prosecutors will be given guidance and training on how to speak to witnesses and victims, including providing more information about the general nature of the defence's case - information that would not previously have been divulged.

This could lead to witnesses being told their medical records or previous offences are likely to be mentioned in court, for example, but the guidance continues to prevent prosecutors discussing the specific questions a witness is likely to face.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP), Alison Saunders, said: "Giving evidence is one of the most important public duties that we can be asked to perform and so it is absolutely right that we assist victims and witnesses to give the best evidence possible, as free as possible from stress or shock, whilst at the same time protecting the fundamental rights of defendants to a fair trial."

Reacting to the measure which aims to improve the court room experience for witnesses and victims, Mark Castle, chief executive of Victim Support, said: "The main worry for many is the process of giving evidence and being cross examined.

"It is right that victims and witnesses should be given more information about their case, and in particular the nature of the defence, so that they can be better prepared to give their best evidence."

The DPP also hopes to boost support by ensuring Crown Prosecution Service paralegal staff spend more time at court.

CPS paralegals will now cover a maximum of two court rooms each and be able to upload details into case management systems remotely using court wifi - preventing unnecessary trips to CPS offices.

They will be required to take notes when prosecutors meet victims and witnesses to explain the general nature of the defence's case, something it is hoped will address concerns that prosecutors may be accused of coaching witnesses.

The DPP will also consider whether the role of the Victim Liaison Units should be extended.

The news follows a survey of victims and witnesses, carried out by the CPS, which found that though two-thirds of victims and three-quarters of witnesses are satisfied with the service, one in ten victims were "very dissatisfied" - in particular those considered vulnerable or eligible for enhanced measures.

Pilots will be in place at magistrates' and crown courts in Liverpool, Sheffield and another area yet to be confirmed, with a national roll-out planned from January 2016.

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