Help for vulnerable witnesses and children in court proceedings

The BBC reported on Wednesday  that there is a shortage of intermediaries for help of vulnerable witnesses ‘to give evidence to police and court’; and that some intermediaries are refusing to help because of late payment by the police.

 

In criminal proceedings – not yet in family or other civil proceedings – the court can order ‘special measures’ for a child or vulnerable witness (eg someone suffering from mental incapacity, or scared of facing their alleged abuser). This can include having their evidence pre-recorded or having someone with them in court to help with deafness or other communication difficulties (‘an intermediary’). These have been in place – or intended to be in place – for criminal proceedings since 1999.

 

Even this assistance for children, parties and witnesses has not been available in family proceedings – domestic violence, child abuse, or communication difficulties (eg deafness), unless a witness brings their own help. Any payment for help will come from the child or vulnerable person (unless they have legal aid).

 

Since November 2017, a scheme for ‘intermediaries’ has been introduced by court rule. It applies to adults only. The new rule says in terms it will not be paid for by Ministry of Justice; though help is paid for in criminal proceedings. That is the case even if they are suffering from incapacity or have been abused by a former partner.

 

And what about children in family proceedings? Nobody knows (though ‘children’s views’ are part of the EU Charter proposed to be scrapped under Brexit). Recommendations were made in early 2015 by a committee chaired by two judges. This was for a scheme similar to criminal proceedings. Three years later and the Ministry of Justice is still silent on reforms for children…

 

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