Charity calls for more support for child witnesses in court

Andrew Driver was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court.

Andrew Driver was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court. - Credit: Archant

A children’s charity is calling for Avon and Somerset Constabulary to provide more support for child witnesses.

Many children still have to go to court buildings to give video evidence despite a Government commitment to victims to ensure every court region provides a remote video link facility.

According to figures from a freedom of information request by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Avon and Somerset is one of the police forces without the vital facility, which means children face the risk of bumping into their abuser in court.

The leading charity is now calling for police forces to provide this facility to support child witnesses.

Sharon Copsey, NSPCC’s regional head of service in South West England, said: “Children have to be tremendously brave to be a witness against someone who has abused them – something that would be daunting even for an adult.

“So we must make sure they have as much support as possible when giving evidence, an essential part of this is allowing them to do so where and when they are likely to feel comfortable and confident. For many children the courts can be inappropriate and intimidating places.

“We have heard troubling stories about children encountering defendants and their supporters which in some cases frightens them so much they feel they can’t go through with giving evidence.

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“Some courts and police forces are making a big effort to ease the burden for child witnesses but these figures show there is still some way to go and that not every child is as well supported as they could be when it comes to giving evidence.”

Of the 34 police forces across England and Wales who responded to the FOI, 12 said they did not have remote video link facilities located away from court buildings and the few which did rarely used them.

The NSPCC campaign Order in Court has been putting pressure on the Government to ensure the justice system is more child-friendly when it comes to giving evidence against offenders.