Young Witness Service

Introduction

Supporting young witnesses giving evidence

The Young Witness Service provides support and assistance to children and young people under 18-years-old who have to attend court as prosecution witnesses in Northern Ireland. It’s free, independent and confidential.

NSPCC workers and volunteers provide information and advice to children and young people – as well as their family, friends and supporters – before, during and after the trial.

How it works

How the Young Witness Service works

Being a witness can be a very daunting and intimidating experience for a child. The support we offer aims to:

  • reduce the stress experienced by children and young people
  • prevent any further trauma
  • ensure full and appropriate attention is given by professionals and the criminal justice system to the needs of young witnesses.

The Young Witness Service piloted, and has now established, giving evidence via a TV live link to enable children to give evidence remotely.

We adapt the support we give to meet the child’s individual needs and the legal context of their case. We help children complete their victim personal statements. Where appropriate, the service can make referrals to other agencies for further support for the young witness.

The Young Witness Service is funded by the Department of Justice in Northern Ireland, which also produces a guide for young people.

> Download The Victim Charter – a charter for victims of crime (PDF)

Evidence base

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).

Who it is for

Who is the Young Witness Service for?

We provide support in Northern Ireland before, during and after any trial for:

  • young prosecution witnesses (under 18-years-old) in criminal cases
  • their parents or carers.

Making a referral

To make a referral to the Young Witness Service, get in touch with one of our sites, as listed under the Locations tab.

Locations

Young Witness Service locations

The Young Witness Service is available to young witnesses in all types of crime in every Crown, Magistrate and Youth court in Northern Ireland.

The NSPCC has four main sites in Northern Ireland:

We also have two remote sites that we use when cases are running in the courts:

Evaluation

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.

References and resources

References and resources

Evaluation reports

McNamee, H., Molyneaux, F. and Geraghty, T. (2012) Key stakeholder evaluation of NSPCC Young Witness Service remote live link (Foyle). Belfast: NSPCC.

Evidence base

Plotnikoff, J. and Woolfson, R. (2009) Measuring up?: evaluating implementation of Government commitments to young witnesses in criminal proceedings. London: NSPCC.

Hayes, D. et al (2011) The experiences of young witnesses in criminal proceedings in Northern Ireland: a report for the Department of Justice (NI). Belfast: Northern Ireland Department of Justice.