This programme has been developed by members of the working group headed by HHJ Rook QC in response to the Government’s September 2014 paper, ‘Commitment to Victims – strengthening the protection for victims by making the experience of going to court a better one ’.
This training will become mandatory for any advocate wishing to undertake publicly funded work in serious sexual offence cases involving vulnerable witnesses.
Questioning the vulnerable
Recognising and dealing appropriately with vulnerability is a skill that can be taught. There is a wide spectrum of vulnerabilities from age and background to physical or mental health and other developmental issues. This course has been designed to ensure that all advocates, when dealing with vulnerable witnesses, understand the key principles behind the approach to and questioning of vulnerable people in the justice system, irrespective of the nature of the allegation, or the jurisdiction in which the advocate appears.
In creating this training course, consultation has been extensive, it has involved pan-profession and interdisciplinary agencies including:
- Judges and practitioners who specialise in cases dealing with the vulnerable in the Youth, Magistrates' and Crown Courts
- Registered intermediaries
- Bodies representing the interests of the vulnerable such as Barnardo’s, the NSPCC, Victim Support, Just for Kids Law
- Experts who work with the vulnerable and leading academics in law and other disciplines
It has enabled the bringing together of strands of learning, practice and thought, which have been building over the years and which must now be reflected in how each advocate in England and Wales should be trained to approach the vulnerable. It is hoped that it will bring about the “sea change” required in gaining the specialist skills needed to effectively deal with vulnerability in the courts.
Ground Rules Hearing
At trial, problems that have been encountered include lengthy, repetitive, intimidating and confusing questioning of vulnerable witnesses and defendants. As a result of the form and content of questioning, those with vulnerabilities involved in the process have been left feeling alienated and in some cases violated.
For all the well-publicised bad examples there are a large number of cases where advocates have dealt with vulnerable people sensitively, appropriately and with skill. The Ground Rules Hearing has been effective and special measures, intermediaries and experts have been carefully and creatively used to ascertain the best way for the vulnerable individual to effectively participate in the trial process.
It must be remembered that few people choose to take part in a criminal case. Advocates have acknowledged that for the vulnerable it can be particularly intimidating. These advocates have brought considerable skill to bear in such cases. This standard of excellence must be replicated in all cases involving vulnerable participants.
It is recognised that our adversarial system must permit challenge of crucial evidence. The skill is in allowing this to be done without exploiting or taking unfair or unthinking advantage of a person with a vulnerability. Nor should it encroach on the rights of a defendant to challenge the evidence against him or her in a fair and appropriate way.
Please note that in order to access either the Lead Facilitator or the Facilitator materials you will be required to either sign in or register.
Dealing with Vicarious and Secondary Trauma
The Inns of Court College of Advocacy (ICCA) wholeheartedly supports the Wellbeing at the Bar project which aims to tackle the stigma that is attached to mental illness; to empower advocates to make healthy life choices and to consciously manage their practice.
In providing materials that require advocates to closely consider the questions for a number of vulnerable witnesses who claim to have been the victims of abuse, ICCA wants to make sure that any barrister undertaking this training course knows that there are resources available that can help to guard against vicarious trauma and that will help to identify symptoms and deal with safeguarding.