This week, the Government published its Victims Strategy setting out its vision for victims of crime. Many of the measures and promises to support witnesses, especially those who are young and vulnerable, will be welcome news for everyone.
In 2014, the government set out their commitment to ensure that advocates taking on cases of a serious sexual nature involving vulnerable witnesses would have to undergo specialist training. In response to that expectation, the Bar, under the Chairmanship of HHJ Peter Rook QC and his pan-disciplinary working group, and with the help of HHJ Sally Cahill QC, led an initiative to develop a course that has since been adopted by The Law Society, the CPS, SAHCA and the PDS. Thousands of advocates have now undertaken this training, referred to as the ‘Advocacy and the Vulnerable’ course. Dozens of practitioners at all levels have contributed in some way, entirely pro bono, to the creation and development of this course which is about to be developed to train the Family Bar.
At a time when much of the news about the criminal Bar is depressing and frustrating, the profession can take heart that it has delivered beyond anything that was expected.
The new Victims Strategy sets out that:
"The [A&V] course helps advocates develop appropriate language when they are cross-examining witnesses and ensures advocates have a broad understanding of current case law, special measures and the use of intermediaries, so vulnerable witnesses can participate fully in the trial process.
Training is both recognised and highly valued by relevant experts who work to support victims’ rights and with organisations such as the NSPCC. The training programme delivers the manifesto commitment: “Publicly funded advocates will have specialist training in handling victims before taking on serious sexual offences” and goes beyond that commitment. Training is available to all advocates, not just those working on publicly funded cases."