The unsung heroes of the courtroom: Witness Support

Many people dread the day they go to court.

But Ruth Sutherland is determined to take as much stress out of the process as she can.

The former forensic psychologist is part of a witness support team working in Gloucestershire’s courts to support people giving evidence as witnesses.

Ms Sutherland, who has experience of working with mentally unwell offenders, was looking for volunteer work after retirement when she came across the Victim Support role.

“I was an ideal candidate as I had experience in court and with vulnerable people through my previous job.”

The main priority of the witness support team is to be completely impartial, creating a space free from judgment which allows witnesses to have their say.

“I listen and reassure them offering additional support if required,” she said.

It’s not always easy and with the recent introduction of defence witness support there is an added pressure to ensure that two opposing parties don’t meet before court proceedings begin.

The sheer number of witnesses is also a stretch on the resources for witness support. “We try to stay in one court all day but sometimes we have to travel to other courts to make sure everyone is supported,” Ms Sutherland added.

The court service’s Witness Charter summary of key standards of care for witnesses says: “You will be treated with dignity and respect at all times by each of the service providers you have contact with in the criminal justice system.”

Ms Sutherland agrees that this has to be the main aim of witness support and their record speaks for itself. “Most of our review forms which are done in line with the Ministry of Justice are good and many witnesses that arrive feeling anxious and worried and leave feeling relaxed and good about their day in court.”

The Witness Support Service is a voluntary scheme. To apply simply visit the Citizens Advice website.



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