Ministry of Justice
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Courtroom communications experts to double

Victims and witnesses will be given more support than ever before with double the number of courtroom experts soon to be available to help them give evidence, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling announced yesterday (23 February 2015).

Under this government funding for specialist support services has also more than doubled to over £92 million in 2015/16, including an increase in local budgets to fund vital services on the ground.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said yesterday:

I have always been clear we must put victims and witnesses at the centre of our reforms. Helping them to give their best evidence is a vital part of this - both for their wellbeing and proper access to justice. Today I can announce that we will be doubling the number of specialist courtroom experts to help them with this.

This government has also more than doubled the amount of funding provided to specialist victims’ support services to over £92 million a year. As part of this we’re making more criminals than ever pay, and pay more, towards victims’ services. We’ve also listened to what victims want to help them best recover, and in response a new victims law will be introduced.

Registered Intermediaries (RIs) are crucial for victims and witnesses who need help to give their best evidence including children and those with mental health issues, physical disabilities or learning difficulties. The government is now seeking double the number of experts to help these vulnerable victims and witnesses understand what is being asked of them and to communicate their answers. This can mean the difference in some cases between whether a witness is able to testify or not.

This compliments a wider package of reforms to smooth the path to justice for victims of crime including spending on vital support which has more than doubled under this government – reaching over £92million next year (2015/16).This will give victims access to the best possible support, no matter where they live in the country, and help ensure they are not alone in coming to terms with the impact of crime. The majority of this will be given to Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to commission victims’ services based on the needs of their communities. The government has also been able to confirm that the funding to be provided next year will be an increase on their indicative budgets.

Victims’ Minister Mike Penning said:

Victims of crime are our priority which is why we’ve made a raft of changes to ensure the criminal justice system is easier to navigate. From introducing new ways to give evidence for the most vulnerable, so sparing them the cauldron environment of a court, to a victims’ law which will ensure their rights are enshrined in legislation, we are committed to putting victims first.

Gill Williams, 59, a qualified speech and language therapist, became a RI 7 years ago. She is based in the West Midlands.

Mrs Williams said:

It’s incredibly satisfying because our role is neutral - we’re not on the side of the defence or prosecution and it means we assist the process of justice by ensuring that the witness is able to give their evidence accurately and coherently.

For me it’s the perfect job because I love the rapport with the young people and vulnerable witnesses - it’s quite a privilege to have that role with them and their families and I like the intellectual challenge of ensuring that our reports make clear and accurate recommendations that will assist the court process.

We aim to support the judge and the advocates, and as the intermediary role has developed, more young people and vulnerable witnesses have been able to give their evidence and the court process for vulnerable witnesses is changing partly as a result of our on-going recommendations and strategies.

DC Sarah Holmes, of West Mercia Police CID, first used a RI in a case involving a young child earlier this month, she said:

I’d never used an intermediary at court before and I was surprised at how effective it was for the victim and how much pressure it took off me as the officer in the case. I was able to concentrate on the trial and the requirements of the barrister, knowing that someone was looking after the victim, putting her at ease and making her feel comfortable in her surroundings. This was invaluable as we often have to leave witnesses to wait on their own while we make sure barristers have everything they need.

I am looking forward to working with other intermediaries in the future and I believe their presence from an early stage in our investigations is truly beneficial.

In September 2014, the government launched ‘Our Commitment to Victims’ which set out how we will strengthen the rights of victims by enshrining them in a new victims’ law, and bring together information and support for people affected by crime into one place with a new nationwide Victims’ Information Service, rather than expecting people to find information scattered across several websites.

As part of this package, sexual violence and rape victims will be spared the trauma of aggressive cross examination thanks to new training for advocates to be rolled out later this year.

TrackMyCrime, a new online service for people to track their case through the investigation stage is also already making it easier for victims to find the latest information about their case.

Notes to editors

  1. RIs come from a wide background of professional backgrounds, including speech and language therapy, social work and mental health professions.
  2. The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) is aiming to recruit up to 100 RIs with a campaign due to start in March 2015.
  3. People interested in the role should visit http://tinyurl.com/lnpuol6 or email Nick.Peel@justice.gsi.gov.uk to register their interest.
  4. As pledged by this government in 2012, from April 1 2015 all PCCs will take full responsibility for funding local services; cementing the government’s commitment to put victims at the forefront of criminal justice reform by ensuring support services can be tailored to meet the individual needs of communities across England and Wales.
  5. As also set out at that time, some victims’ services will continue to be commissioned centrally to ensure their services are available across England and Wales due to the severity of the crime. This includes the nationwide Homicide Support Service, and funding for Rape Support Centres.
  6. The total funding available for victims in 2015/16 will be £92.235 million. This is more than double the £40.52 million in 2009/10.
  7. Of this, PCCs will receive £63.15million. This is £2.35 million more than the indicative 2015/16 budgets they were provided with in 2014 which stood at £60.8 million. This additional funding was able to be allocated by extra penalties collected through the Victim Surcharge and Prisoner Earnings’ Act.
  8. Funding for victims’ services is collected through the victim surcharge, increased Penalty Notices for Disorder, increased motoring Fixed Penalty Notices, and the Prisoners’ Act. 9 As part of our 2012 pledge, we changed the way judges can impose the victim surcharge. It is no longer a flat rate of £15 payable only by those given fines. Instead a sliding scale of penalties has been put in place, with a maximum of £120 available. We also extended the type of sentence the surcharge can be applied to. Previously it was only available for fines. Now more serious offenders are ordered to pay.
  9. This was built on in September 2014 when the government pledged further changes to put victims and witnesses at the forefront of change with Our Commitment to Victims.
  10. We have also met the coalition commitment to establish 15 new Female Rape Support Centres, and put the remaining 71 on a more secure financial footing with more than £4 million of funding a year. We have also committed more than £2million extra to these centres for 2015/16 as part of a wider joint MOJ and Home Office package to provide support to all victims of child sexual abuse funded from £7 million of offender receipts. 12 For more information contact External Communications officer Rebecca Gough on 020 3334 3506 or email rebecca.gough@justice.gsi.gov.uk.

 

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