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Intimidating questioning of vulnerable witnesses not in interests of justice, say Bar leaders

Bar Council

2 min read Partner content

Pro bono training launched for advocates dealing with vulnerable witnesses

Vulnerable witnesses, including children and people with learning difficulties, should not be subject to unnecessarily harsh questioning in court, according to Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC, who today launched a pioneering pro bono barrister training programme.

The training will be delivered free of charge by specially trained barristers and judges to all advocates dealing with serious sexual offences, making this the largest pro-bono scheme of its kind.

Developed by the Bar Council and Inns of Court College of Advocacy in conjunction with the Circuits, the Inns, the CPS and the Law Society, the training is expected to be fully implemented by the end of 2018.

Chairman of the Bar, Chantal-Aimée Doerries QC said: “Giving evidence can be difficult or intimidating, especially for vulnerable witnesses, and what they have to say is often vital to the outcome of the case.

“Using specific techniques for cross-examination helps vulnerable witnesses to feel more secure and means that they are more likely to give their best and most accurate evidence. That is in the interests of the witnesses themselves and the interests of justice.

“Since a ruling in 2015 there has been a clear prohibition on unnecessarily repetitive cross-examination, and in cases involving vulnerable witnesses, the length and nature of cross-examination must be agreed in advance at a hearing.

“This training programme takes us a step further by developing less intrusive questioning techniques and adapting them for children and vulnerable adults.”

Fifty nominated Lead Facilitators, made up of members of the Bar, judges, Crown Prosecution Service Advocates, and Solicitor Advocates have now been trained. The Lead Facilitators will, in turn, train other facilitators to deliver front-line training to barristers and solicitor advocates throughout England and Wales.


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