Special measures are a series of provisions that help vulnerable and intimidated witnesses to give their best evidence in court and help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety associated with giving evidence. Under the Victims Code, all witnesses have the right to have their needs assessed by a police officer and the Witness Care Unit, a unit within the police force.
This review explores the current provision of special measures, from the initial assessment of witnesses’ needs all the way to trial. Drawing on testimony from criminal justice professionals and victim support services, it outlines victims’ and witness’ wider experiences of court and special measures, including during Covid, and makes 21 recommendations on how to improve the provision of special measures and address barriers to access.
The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird says:
“Special measures are not a ‘nice to have’ but are essential provisions for many witnesses and for the criminal justice system. Giving evidence to a court can be a worrying and, for some, traumatising experience. Special measures were introduced to make this easier for witnesses and to avoid unnecessary stress and distress. Some witnesses will not be able to give evidence at all without this help but not all victims and witnesses are getting the protections they need. And this is a major problem for the criminal justice system which needs to secure all the available evidence on both sides of a case.
“At a time when record numbers of victims of crime, including rape, are withdrawing from prosecutions, I hope this report and its recommendations help set an agenda for the next phase of special measures – one which makes navigating the court experience easier for more and more witnesses.”
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