Professor Penny Cooper, Kingston Law School, Chair of the Management Committee of The Advocate's Gateway:
This article outlines the latest guidance available on The Advocates' Gateway (theadvocatesgateway.org) - a recently launched website of resources for advocates and judges. The Advocate's Gateway, free to all users, exists to help advocates and judges attend to the communication needs of children and vulnerable adult witnesses. There is no definition of who is a 'vulnerable' witness in family proceedings but there are many witnesses for whom the standard family court process needs to be adapted. Special measures are only part of the picture. Just as important is how advocates adapt their questioning. On theadvocatesgateway.org there are 11 toolkits including guidance on case management when witnesses are young or otherwise vulnerable, how to plan to question someone with autism (including Aspergers) and planning to question someone with a learning disability. There is a toolkit on Ground Rules Hearings covering best practice when the judge and advocates get together to agree how the vulnerable witness's evidence will be handled. The Advocate's Gateway also contains information on intermediaries, latest research reports and case-law. This article summarises best practice and recent family case-law on vulnerable witnesses including important Court of Appeal rulings on procedure.
The full version of this article appears in the November 2013 issue of Family Law.