Special Measures For All
As Director of Services for Supporting Justice, a community interest company working to improve policy and services for victims and witnesses of crime, Rhiannon works with a whole range of different organisations. One of the largest part of her role is working alongside Citizens Advice, providing daily subject matter expertise to the senior management team. Previously, Rhiannon worked for 13 years with the national charity Victim Support, latterly serving as Divisional Manager for the Avon and Somerset, Devon and Cornwall and Dorset police force areas. Having worked through the charity starting from the grassroots as volunteer directly supporting victims, predominantly of serious crime, she has overseen the design, development and implementation of new projects including services for domestic violence, anti-social behaviour and restorative justice. Other roles have included managing a team of Independent Domestic Violence Advocates (IDVAs), working as a caseworker within the Crown Prosecution Service.
Rhiannon’s chapter in Part Three of the book focuses on her belief that Special Measures should be available for all Vulnerable & Intimidated Witnesses – they are, they just aren’t always offered, and what is offered is often what is convenient for the Court, rather than options discussed with the victim.
Rhiannon offers the perspective that whilst for the courts, sexual crimes are common (taking up a large portion of court time), they are still taboo to talk about, and indeed victims are discouraged from talking about it, so as not to influence the case in any way.
One of the things that totally angers me is when victims are told they aren’t allowed to access therapy in advance of the case coming to court. Rhiannon observes in her chapter that whilst the CPS and police are very anxious about pre-trial therapy, it is absolutely the case that it is allowed. Yet, because people are worried about it, they sometimes don’t offer it. It can also take a lot of effort to organise as it requires a specialist, and there aren’t many people practising. Plus there is red tape to ensure that the pre-trial therapy has been appropriately explained to the court. Rhiannon believe that it’s these barriers that often puts people off offering it to victims.
Rhiannon also spoke about the support that victims should get within the Criminal Justice System. The Citizens Advice Witness Service has a responsibility to prepare victims and witnesses for court when the defendant pleads not guilty. The Witness Care Unit, run by the police, will ask what the needs are for the witness. As part of that they should offer the Witness Service to the victim or witness. The person has to give the police their consent for their details to be passed on. Sometimes the question will be phrased “You don’t need this do you?”. If someone has an ISVA, the assumption is often that you don’t need it. But the Witness Service know the courts inside and out, they know the judges. The ISVA is the crisis point, and support. The Witness Service are impartial, and so they’re allowed to sit with the witness through special measures, whereas the ISVAs often aren’t allowed.
Rhiannon’s organisation Supporting Justice runs this local service directory: if you are a victim of crime and need support, find local service at www.victimschoice.org.uk
There was a lot more we discussed, but I don’t want to give it all away before you read it!
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