Trinity Seminar Success

Over 120 practitioners gave up their Saturday morning on 1st October 2011 to attend a seminar on Vulnerable Witnesses, Victims and Defendants, covering both family and criminal proceedings. The training event was organised jointly between Trinity Chambers and Northumbria Law School. The session was held at Northumbria University, Newcastle Business School and School of Law, City Campus East, Newcastle.

The training event was prompted by the publication in April 2011 of the Advocacy Training Council’s Report – “Raising the Bar”: The Handling of Vulnerable Witnesses, Victims and Defendants in Court. The aim of the event was not only to provide an opportunity for reflection and debate on a number of critical issues concerning vulnerable witnesses, but also to explore and discuss various practical aspects of the report’s recommendations. The event was targeted at practitioners and agencies involved in dealing with potentially vulnerable witnesses, victims and indeed defendants and the particular challenges which they face in coping with the Court process. 

The session brought together a wide spectrum of delegates including members of the Judiciary, family and criminal advocates both barristers and solicitors. Also attending the event were members of support networks such as Victim and Witness Support. 

Chairing the event was Caroline Goodwin, barrister at Trinity Chambers. The first speaker, Cris McCurley, highlighted the difficulties faced in dealing with vulnerable witnesses involved in honour violence and forced marriage, including strategies to help and assist in the delivery of their evidence. 

This was followed by the key note speaker, barrister Bobbie Cheema, Treasury Counsel, who was the Chair of the working group that authored the report. Based on over 20 month’s work, the report is the first in depth analysis of the training, protocols and procedures affecting those involved in the Court process. The report focusses on the most vulnerable because of their young age, learning difficulties or state of mental health, regardless of whether they are witnesses, victims or defendants. Bobbie highlighted the key recommendations of the report explaining how those conclusions were arrived at as well as exploring their practical implications. 

Sally Bradley Q.C of Trinity Chambers then gave a family law perspective on the issues raised in the report. Following a short break Caroline Goodwin delivered a session highlighting the criminal perspective including reference to special measures and the steps which advocates needed to consider at every stage when dealing with these important issues. 

Dr Keith Rix, Consultant Forensic Psychiatrist discussed the forensic issues in relation to dealing with vulnerable witnesses, victims and defendants giving an example of battered woman’s syndrome. 

Finally, all of the various strands of the morning session were brought together by a view from the Judiciary. HHJ Rachel Hudson highlighted the challenges which these cases generate. 

Despite there being a catastrophic diary clash for rugby fans, interested delegates were able to watch parts of the Scotland v. England match in the reception area of the Law School. 

Both Northumbria Law School and Trinity Chambers are grateful to the speakers who gave up their time, and in one case their birthday, to travel to Newcastle to deliver their portions of the seminar. The event would not have been the success it was without them. 

A full copy of the Vulnerable Witnesses, Victims and Defendants report can be downloaded from here.

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Chris Lucarelli

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