We’re supporting more defence witnesses

Marios Leptos, Head of Citizens Advice Witness Service

When we first started running the Witness Service in 2015 the number of defence witnesses we supported was very low and many of the defence community I spoke to either didn’t know about our service or thought that we were a prosecution only service. Now, 2 years later, we’re supporting almost 400 a month and have increased the numbers of defence witnesses who are referred to us for pre-trial support.

This increase is down to our teams spending time talking to the defence about our service, holding seminars and awareness raising sessions, building confidence in our service resulting in a commitment to work together. Some practitioners are spreading the word for us by becoming champions of our service, including Richard Thompson from Wilberforce Chambers in Hull:

“As a direct result of this process, the service has already provided support for a number of witnesses giving evidence in our local courts for the defence. Practitioners are now well aware of what is available and of the benefits to them in providing a better service for their clients and I am confident that this innovative collaboration will benefit many witnesses in the future.

We’re now starting to hear from our new partners just how valuable our service is to witnesses, we recently heard from John Lyons  about the impact our service had on one of his witnesses in a case he was defending at the Central Criminal Court:The defence witness was very vulnerable and terrified at the prospect of giving evidence, and also had limited English. We liaised with the Witness Service, a number of days in advance of the witness being required, to discuss how her needs could be met at court.… I was most impressed with the volunteer’s unbiased support and preparation of the witness.

The volunteer was very intelligent, sympathetic and showed great consideration to the situation and to the particular needs of my witness. The support from the volunteer enabled the witness to give evidence in a calm, clear way that was helpful for everyone in court, including the jury and the defendant.”

I’m delighted that this injection of energy from our teams in engaging the defence is already paying off. We’ve still got lots of work to do but I’m confident that we’re making great progress in our mission to make sure every witness can access our support.
If you would like to work with us please contact witnessservice@citizensadvice.org.uk for more information or you can refer your witnesses online.

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  1. Keith Cooper

    As a long serving member of Witness Service prior to CA taking over, I know that the issue of support to & advice given to defence witnesses always took a back seat to our work with prosecution witnesses. We always received advanced info from CPS sources of Prosecution witnesses expected to attend. As regards defence witnesses, it was only by chance or self referral that we knew about them. There may also have been a general feeling that defence witnesses were already fully covered by their own solicitors From my experiences, I know this not to be the case – my own work with defence witnesses showed in general scarce attention to the type of cover & support given to prosecution witnesses. As my own WS Manager repeatedly said – a Witness is a Witness, regardless of ribbon colour around their brief. I applaud the progress being made.

  2. Chase the Funding

    You should have stuck with advice work rather than taking Victim Support’s funding.

    1. Colin

      Agree. The sooner funding for Witness Service is devolved to Police and Crime Commissioners the better. A combined Victim Service with Witness Service would restore a much needed seamless service for Victims irrespective who the provider is.

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