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Advocacy Section

New training to improve courtroom experience for vulnerable witnesses

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Law Society and Bar Council announce bespoke training programme for solicitor advocates and barristers who question vulnerable witnesses in court during criminal trials.

The Advocacy and the Vulnerable Training Programme will help solicitor advocates and barristers strike the balance between advancing a client’s case effectively in court whilst ensuring vulnerable witnesses are not subjected to undue stress.

‘Victims and witnesses who feel secure in the courtroom are more likely to communicate vital evidence effectively,’ said Law Society president Robert Bourns.

The training programme, which will be rolled out across England and Wales from December, was developed by a cross-professional working group comprising experienced members of the legal profession led by His Honour Judge Rook QC.

The Law Society and Bar Council will deliver this training to their members by 2018 and it is expected it will become mandatory for publicly-funded advocates who are instructed in serious sexual offence cases involving vulnerable witnesses. The training will also include techniques used to question defendants.

Robert Bourns explained: ’Witnesses are fundamental to the criminal justice system. Giving evidence can be a traumatic and intimidating experience and the pressure and unfamiliarity of court proceedings for witnesses cannot be underestimated.

‘While significant progress has been made over the past two decades to support vulnerable witnesses during a trial, more can be done. That is why the Law Society is committed to supporting a consistent level of high quality advocacy. Stress can affect the ability of a witness to tell their story in a courtroom. This training programme ensures that solicitor advocates and barristers play their part in helping witnesses so they are best able to communicate their evidence. We look forward to working with the Bar Council to develop and deliver this training.’

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