Child witnesses in sex abuse or violence cases are facing excessive delays and a lack of support in giving evidence, according to NSPCC research published today.
The report found that children giving evidence in crown court cases in England and Wales had to wait an average of 13 months from reporting an offence to the start of trials.
And despite policies for the judiciary, courts and prosecutors saying cases involving children should get priority listing in courts, the NSPCC’s evidence suggested their cases were taking longer than average to come to court.
The study, Measuring Up?, reviewed progress on supporting child witnesses since a damning 2004 report by the NSPCC and fellow charity Victim Support, which revealed a “chasm” between government policy and implementation on the ground.
Today’s report, which was based on interviews with 182 child witnesses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, their parents and professionals, found that the “implementation gap” still existed in terms of the level of support received by witnesses.
- Two-thirds of young people were accompanied to court by someone they did not know, leaving them without emotional support.
- 44% did not meet supporters before trial and were not given a chance to visit the court beforehand.
- Three-quarters of child witnesses felt that questions were asked too quickly and their answers were “talked over”.
- One in five young witnesses also reported feeling intimidated in the run-up to the trial.
Sexual abuse or violence
Most of the children interviewed (87%) gave evidence in cases involving violence or sexual abuse.
The charity called on the government to enforce its policy of fast-tracking criminal cases involving young witnesses and monitor delays.
NSPCC lawyer Barbara Esam, said the “excessive delays” in trials added to pressure on children and could undermine the criminal justice system.
Policy dates back to 1988
“Court appearances are naturally stressful for anyone, let alone a young child who might be giving evidence about abuse they’ve suffered. Speeding up young witness cases has been government policy since 1988 and is frequently re-stated but has still not been achieved.
The NSPCC also called for the government to ensure that remote link facilities for young witnesses were available so they could give evidence away from the court room.