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Dame Vera comments on findings of a new report on young witness experience

28th February 2019

Dame Vera comments on findings of a new report on young witness experience

Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird QC, has today (Wednesday 27 February) welcomed the NSPCC’s ‘Falling short?’ report, which examines the impact of being a child witness in court.

The report marks ten years since researchers originally formed guidance based on the views of various criminal justice policy makers and practitioners.

Findings from the new report say that while improvements have been made the provision of support is inconsistent and that children are still at risk of having negative experiences and being traumatised.

Dame Vera, who also chairs the local criminal justice board, where local representatives from criminal justice agencies work together to tackle problems and improve services, said:

“This is a worthwhile piece of research from the NSPCC, showing that although improvements have been made, the criminal justice system (CJS) still has a long way to go in assisting vulnerable children who have to give evidence in court.

“There are horror stories in the report of children coming face-to face with the accused in waiting  areas or at the entrance to the court building – it needs specific arrangements to be made to guarantee that this will not happen. There is little point in the whole system of special measures such as giving evidence from behind a screen or emptying the court of the public, if children are confronted with the defendant or his family before they have been called into court.”

Another finding in the report is that child sexual abuse cases take longer to get to court than any other kind of case. Vera said: “This delay can be extremely stressful for a young child who is perhaps unable to get on with their life until the trial is over and there is also a need to ensure pre-trial therapy is offered to all child witnesses.

She continued: “It’s pleasing that the criminal bar has established a course to upskill advocates on age appropriate questioning so that children when being challenged are not retraumatised, however this is not compulsory and it ought to be so that all children questioned in court are done so in a safe way.

“No child should be let down by the system so we need to fix the weak spots to ensure the experience can in fact be a positive one to help them cope and recover. I know that my colleagues on the local criminal justice board will engage with the issues raised in this report and we will take forward recommendations which might help local child witnesses moving forward.