Ministry of Justice
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A voice is given to vulnerable witnesses
A scheme assisting vulnerable witnesses to access the criminal justice process will be rolled out nationally, following an announcement by Justice Minister Gerry Sutcliffe.
Professional intermediaries help children and people with mental and physical disabilities through the various stages of the criminal justice process. They are selected for their specialist skills and experience as speech and language therapists, psychologists, teachers, health professionals and social workers and are used to help to make the justice process more accessible to some of the most vulnerable people in society.
The national roll-out follows the success of eight regional pilots trialled across the country which have supported approximately 700 witnesses. Results from the pilots have indicated that the scheme has helped to bring more offences to justice, improved victim and witness satisfaction and increased public confidence in the criminal justice system. In the opinion of the criminal justice practitioners that were consulted, at least half of the cases would not have reached the trial stage without the involvement of an intermediary. In some cases, the work of the intermediary will be the difference between a witness being heard by the justice system or not.
Speaking at the fourth annual intermediary conference, Justice Minister, Gerry Sutcliffe, said:
"Looking after the needs of victims and witnesses has been highlighted as a priority for the new Ministry of Justice. It is vitally important that people feel confident in coming forward and that they should receive the necessary support to do so.
"We will do this through a combination of making emotional and practical support more accessible and by improving processes to better suit their needs. The use of intermediaries has made the complexities of the justice process more accessible to some of the most vulnerable people in society."
Amanda McLellan, an intermediary for three years, said:
"I am delighted to have been part of a scheme that has done much to improve access to justice for vulnerable people and to give them a voice within the criminal justice process. In particular, I am impressed by how the criminal justice system has been really forward thinking in changing to fit the needs of children."
Notes to Editors
1. The intermediary service is running in eight pilot areas, including; Merseyside, Thames Valley, West Midlands, South Wales (Cardiff and Swansea Crown Courts and a limited number of magistrates' courts), Norfolk, Devon, Cornwall (Plymouth Crown Court and Plymouth Magistrates' Court), Leicestershire and Derbyshire.
2. The research findings into the pilot schemes were published on 12 June 2007 and can be found on the Ministry of Justice website. (http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/research.htm)
3. Minister for Justice, Gerry Sutcliffe, was speaking at a conference today for stakeholders and practitioners at Inns Court School of Law, Morrison Hall, Atkin Building, Gray's Inn, London.