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Lawyers offered free training for questioning sex offence witnesses

18th Nov 2016

Solicitor advocates and barristers who question vulnerable witnesses involved in serious sexual offences will undergo bespoke training, the Law Society and Bar Council have announced.

The advocacy and the vulnerable training programme aims to ensure vulnerable witnesses, such as children and people with learning difficulties, are protected and not subjected to harsh questioning and undue stress. The training will also include techniques used to question defendants.

“Victims and witnesses who feel secure in the courtroom are more likely to communicate vital evidence effectively”, explained president of the Law Society, Robert Bourns.

The programme, which will be rolled out across England and Wales from December, was developed by a cross-professional working group comprised of experienced members of the profession and led by His Honour Judge Rook QC.

Fifty nominated lead facilitators, made up of members of the Bar, judges, Crown Prosecution Service advocates, and solicitor advocates have now been trained and, in turn, will train other facilitators in the future.

“Witnesses are fundamental to the criminal justice system. Giving evidence can be a traumatic and intimidating experience and the pressure and unfamiliarity of court proceedings for witnesses cannot be underestimated,” said Bourns.

“While significant progress has been made over the past two decades to support vulnerable witnesses during a trial, more can be done,” he continued to say. “Stress can affect the ability of a witness to tell their story in a courtroom. This training programme ensures that solicitor advocates and barristers play their part in helping witnesses so they are best able to communicate their evidence. We look forward to working with the Bar Council to develop and deliver this training.”

The Law Society and Bar Council will deliver the training to their members by 2018, and the training is expected to become mandatory for publicly-funded advocates.