Despite the significant challenges posed by the pandemic, the Citizens Advice Witness Service supported almost 52,000 witnesses to give evidence in criminal courts in the last year. The figures are from a report detailing the impact of the service, released today.
While the pandemic meant fewer criminal cases were brought to trial - meaning fewer witnesses needed support - witness feedback about the service remained overwhelmingly positive. In a post-trial feedback survey, speaking about the Witness Service:
98% of witnesses said they were helped to feel welcomed and supported in court
96% said they were helped to feel safe
96% said they were helped to feel more informed about the court process
90% said they were helped to feel more confident about giving evidence
In addition, the Witness Service supported a higher proportion of victims of crime in the last year, compared to the previous year. Over 80% of those supported were victims of crime, compared to 65% in the same period the year before. This reflected the focus of the criminal justice system on prioritising high-priority, sensitive, or otherwise urgent cases while court capacity was limited.
On top of this, despite challenges with meeting witnesses face-to-face, the service adapted rapidly to deliver a consistent level of pre-trial meetings. In total, 6,380 pre-trial meetings were carried out. Almost half (45%) of these were by phone or video call, a method used by the service for the first time in 2020.
Gina Perkins, Head of Funded Services, said:
“Our staff and volunteers have worked tirelessly to help witnesses give their best evidence in these extraordinary circumstances. Today’s figures show how the service has responded and adapted through this time of upheaval.
“We’ve all had to make changes in our personal and professional lives to weather the challenges imposed by coronavirus. The Witness Service and the entire criminal justice system has been no exception.
"We’ll continue to play a key role as the justice system returns to business as usual. And our work in supporting witnesses to contribute effectively will help limit delays, improve the quality of evidence given, and support trials to go ahead as planned.”