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Vulnerable witnesses


Special measures - help with giving evidence

For some witnesses the process of giving evidence in court can be particularly difficult. Children under 18 years of age, victims of sexual offences and the most serious crimes, persistently targeted victims and people with communication difficulties are some examples of people who may need special help.

These witnesses (described as vulnerable or intimidated), may be allowed to use special measures to help them give their evidence in the best possible way.

The special measures that may be available are:

  • Giving evidence through a TV link: The witness can sit in a room outside the courtroom and give their evidence via a live television link to the courtroom. The witness will be able to see the courtroom and those in the courtroom can see the witness on a television screen;
  • Video recorded evidence: The witness' evidence is recorded and played to the court;
  • Screens around the witness box: A screen is placed around the witness box to prevent the witness from having to see the defendant;
  • Removal of wigs and gowns: The judge and lawyers in the Crown Court do not wear gowns and wigs so that the court feels less formal. This is usually used for young witnesses;
  • Evidence given in private: This is when members of the public are not allowed in the courtroom;
  • Use of communication aids: This is when the witness needs to use an aid to communicate. For example, this could include anything from computers, voice synthesisers or symbol boards to toys, books or an alphabet board; and;
  • Examination through an intermediary. An intermediary is someone who can help a witness understand questions that they are being asked, and can make his or her answers understood by the court

A combination of special measures may be appropriate. For example, if a witness who is to give evidence by live link wishes, screens can be used to shield the live link screen from the defendant and the public, as would occur if screens were being used for a witness giving evidence in the court room.

If you feel you need extra help in court then talk to your witness care officer who will discuss the options with you. If appropriate, the prosecutor will apply to the court for permission to use 'special measures'.

Kara Hoyte's mother Eunice talks about special measures

in 2009, we asked Kara Hoyte and her mother, Eunice Lander, to talk about how special measures helped Kara to give evidence that led to the conviction of her attacker, not only for attempting to murder her but also for killing his ex-girlfriend in the first 'double jeopardy' case (a double jeopardy case is when someone who has previously been tried for a serious offence and found not guilty can be tried again if there is new and compelling evidence).

This case and the way special measures were used is still relevant today.

Kara and Eunice, what do you want young adults and children to do if they witness a crime or are the victim of a crime?

Click on the video to play the clip or read the first section of the transcript.

How would you like to encourage people to report crimes to the police and give evidence so that the CPS can prosecute?

Click on the video to play the clip or read the second section of the transcript.

The National Black Crown Prosecutors Association (NBCPA) presented the Profile In Courage Award to Kara Hoyte in October 2009. Kara suffered a terrible attack with permanent brain injuries caused by her ex-partner Mario Celaire, who attacked her with a hammer. Her tremendous courage in giving evidence contributed to the conviction of her ex-partner in a landmark case as Mario Celaire had been acquitted at the first trial in 2003 of the murder of Cassandra McDermott. Kara's evidence resulted in the conviction of Mario Celaire at the Central Criminal Court where he admitted to the manslaughter of Cassandra McDermott and the attempted murder of Kara. He was sentenced to 23 years custody.

This filming was carried out in 2009. Sadly, Eunice Lander passed away in February 2010.

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