The Advocate's Gateway have announced the launch of the Vulnerable Witnesses and Parties in The Family Courts Toolkit.
The toolkit states:
- In the family justice system there is no definition of a ‘vulnerable witness’ or a ‘vulnerable party’; however, a significant proportion of parties and witnesses are likely to be vulnerable such that they will need assistance to give their best evidence.
- Vulnerability should be identified at the earliest possible stage and information-sharing is key to achieving this.
- Courts must take reasonable steps to ensure the effective participation of vulnerable parties and witnesses. A ground rules hearing (GRH) must take place if a vulnerable witness is due to give evidence.
- Family judges should consider ‘additional measures’ and other reasonable adjustments throughout proceedings.
- Special consideration should be given to managing and funding cases with interpreters or intermediaries.
The toolkit contains information about vulnerable witnesses in the family and is primarily intended for use by advocates as well as solicitors, social workers, guardians, the Children and Family Court Advisory Service (Cafcass) officers and judges.
The toolkits were developed in response to a recommendation of the Advocacy Training Council report, Raising the Bar: the handling of vulnerable witnesses, victims and defendants in court (2011)
that 'all advocates be issued with "toolkits" setting out common problems encountered when examining vulnerable witnesses and defendants, together with suggested solutions...'.
The toolkits provide advocates with general good practice guidance when preparing for trial in cases involving a witness or a defendant with communication needs. Information should always be sought from the individual witness or defendant or their family / support worker / teachers etc about their specific communication abilities and needs. Consideration should also be given to the use of an intermediary
‘Advocates should not take it upon themselves to decide what the communications needs are of any of their potentially vulnerable witnesses’ (Special Measures Guidance from the Bar Council
). Where appropriate, consideration should be given to an assessment by an intermediary
Each toolkit contains the following statement:
‘Questioning that contravenes principles for obtaining accurate information from a witness by exploiting his or her developmental limitations is not conducive to a fair trial and would contravene the Codes of Conduct.'
The toolkits also contain links to source material (checked as of January 2013). Toolkits 3 to 8 contain examples from trial transcript questions, with suggestions about how they might be improved; highlighted examples of good practice and poor practice; and lists of references, contributors and reviewers.
If you intend to use The Advocate’s Gateway materials or toolkits for anything other than personal, non-commercial use to assist with communication, permission must be obtained in advance from the authors.
Development of Toolkits 6, 7 and 8 was funded by the Nuffield Foundation.The toolkits are available to download from the Advocate's Gateway website.