In a move designed to help witnesses and victims with the experience of appearing in court, the Director of Public Prosecutions has proposed that witnesses be pre-warned of the type of questions they might be asked.
Under the proposals, anyone appearing in court would be made aware of the focus of the defence’s case, and provided with more details about court procedures, to avoid them being “ambushed” in the witness box. The proposals would require witnesses to be warned that they could be asked about their character or sexual history. Witnesses would also be reminded of their right to ask for questions put to them to be repeated or rephrases, and that they can refer to their own witness statement if they wish. The aim is that prosecutors should be testing the evidence, rather that putting witnesses “on trial”.
Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders said that asking a witness or victim to appear in court “Without any idea of what they face in the witness box does not seem fair to me”. She added that:
“To stand up in a formal setting and to be asked sometimes difficult and personal questions in front of a court full of strangers is a very big ask…I am convinced that we owe it to those who are willing to come to court to help them as much as we can.”
However, the proposals have raised concerns amongst members of the Criminal Bar Association that there is a fine line between informing a witness, and coaching or training them, which is not allowed.
The issue here is that any suspicion of coaching may make the witness’s evidence less credible. The Bar Standards Board has clear guidelines on what is, or is not, permissible:
“A barrister should be alert to the risks that any discussion of the substance of a case with a witness may lead to suspicions of coaching, and thus tend to diminish the value of the witness’s evidence in the eyes of the court.”
At Leiper Gupta Family Lawyers, we fully support all our clients who need to appear in court as part of a divorce, family dispute or other type of civil case. Our team has extensive experience of the various procedures and processes of UK courts. So, as our client, we will help prepare you for the experience of being in court, so that you can deliver your evidence in the most effective way. The key phrase here is preparation; we do not coach or train you in any way.
We do offer mediation and collaborative law services to try and resolve issues without the need for court appearances, should this be suitable for your case and your circumstances.
If you need impartial, professional advice on your case or situation, call us for more details, or to book a free 30-minute consultation at our Hampshire offices.
Read more at The BBC
Read the Home office Guide o Giving Evidence in Court
More details of current requirements here