My role would be to identify these needs and vulnerabilities in witnesses as quickly as possible, and to then tailor my behaviour and the service that I would provide. During our relatively short time with witnesses before they are called into court, we try to relax them, a cup of coffee is a good start. We carefully explain to them what they will experience whilst giving their evidence, even the type of questions to expect. We explain that
. THE OXFORD CROWN COURT they are not on trial, although it often feels like they are.
‘Active Listening’ is very important, listening is often more important than talking, then responding appropriately, watching body language - the unspoken signals about feelings. Making eye contact and looking out for signs of non-accidental injuries. Abuse comes in many forms, can be physical, sexual, emotional and simply neglect.
A pre-trial visit is recommended and often requested prior to the day of the trial. We take them into an empty courtroom, suggest they stand in the witness box, and explain the different oaths that they can choose to make, where the court ushers, the Judge and Jury and the Barristers will be sitting, and the order of events. Encourage them when in court to speak slowly and clearly, and if they don’t understand or hear the question, say so. Vulnerable witnesses can give their evidence behind screens or use a live link from another room.
If and only where appropriate, we may ask them if they have thought about the possible outcome of the trial, in order that they can prepare themselves for maybe going home or meeting with the defendant, to whom they have given evidence against. Retribution can be a very real and scary possibility. I have found it a very difficult and a thin line to draw – do I prepare them for this, which could result in them being even more nervous, or say nothing and then they are unprepared? This is typical of many situations we are confronted with and I often feel unqualified or inexperienced to decide on these important issues.
I have since been on a couple on enhanced awareness courses. Witnesses bereaved by homicide, manslaughter and culpable road death or those with learning disabilities and Autism. It would be impossible to understand all these enormous subjects in real depth, but hopefully sufficient to be of some help to these very vulnerable people.
On 27th May 2015, it befalls me to provide a speaker at our regular Wednesday evening meetings, and as I have received interest from many of you in conversation, I may undertake a presentation on this subject, unless of course, something more interesting requires airing.
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