The evidence base
Child witnesses in the justice system often experience symptoms of stress, such as sleep and eating problems, depression, panic attacks and self-harm (Plotnikoff and Woolfson, 2009).
Research into the experiences of young witnesses in criminal proceedings in Northern Ireland in 2011 found that:
- many young witnesses received little pre-trial support or information
- the majority of young witnesses saw the defendant in or around the court building at some point during the trial
- many felt nervous or upset during questioning
- many did not understand all of the questions asked of them
(Hayes et al, 2011).
By providing young witnesses with a safe, secure environment with people to support them, court proceedings are more likely to go ahead and young witnesses are more able to complete their evidence (McNamee, Molyneaux and Geraghty, 2012).
Evaluation of the Young Witness Service
The Young Witness Service remote live link was evaluated when it was first piloted in Foyle. Findings from the evaluation contributed to the decision to roll the Young Witness Service out across Northern Ireland.
What we learnt
Findings from the key stakeholder evaluation of the NSPCC Young Witness Service remote live link include:
- All the participants agreed that young witnesses were supported to give their best evidence through the remote live link. Young witnesses were able to speak in a safe, secure environment with people to support them. As a result, the court proceedings were more likely to go ahead and the young witnesses were more able to complete their evidence.
- All the participants agreed that the remote live link reduced the stress placed on young witnesses when providing evidence. Three main factors were identified as contributing to this: the physical separation of the NSPCC building from the court, the young witness not having to enter the courtroom or courthouse, and the young witness having their family with them.
- Participants did not feel the remote live link had an impact on the effectiveness of the cross-examination process. Rather, it was felt that it made the young witness more relaxed, so they were better able to give their best evidence in cross-examination. However, some participants felt that the remoteness of the TV link could result in the young witnesses having less influence on the jury.
- The advantages that participants identified of the remote live link heavily outweighed court-based TV link advantages. Remote live link was also viewed as preferable to open court. While some participants felt open court was best, it was recognised that remote live link was necessary in order for many cases to proceed.
- All participants were fully in favour of the expansion of the service to all courts throughout Northern Ireland.
> Read the full evaluation report
How we evaluated this service
The NSPCC commissioned the National Children’s Bureau Northern Ireland (NCB NI) to undertake an evaluation of the NSPCC Young Witness Service remote live link in Foyle.
The evaluation involved:
- Criminal Justice System (CJS) personnel
- Young Witness Service volunteers
- Victim Support staff
- NSPCC staff.
A series of semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with stakeholders, and a focus group was conducted with three volunteers who have supported young witnesses in using the remote live link.
All interviews and the focus group were conducted in May 2011, with a total of 14 participants.