Vulnerable or intimidated witnesses

Sometimes victims or witnesses of a crime have additional difficulties in relation to giving evidence and may be considered as vulnerable or intimidated. This includes all victims and witnesses who are under the age of 18.

On this page we set out the additional services available to these victims and witnesses and also explain who is entitled to claim witness expenses. 

The terms 'vulnerable' and 'intimidated' are defined in the Criminal Evidence (NI) Order 1999 in order to establish eligibility for Special Measures, though the PPS may adopt a wider view of when a witness can be classed as vulnerable or intimidated for expenses purposes.

Each witness will have a Needs Assessment undertaken by their Victim and Witness Care Unit case officer and will have an opportunity to identify any difficulties they are experiencing.

The case officer may then offer a referral to a specialist agency, such as Victim Support NI, or suggest other types of support which they feel could be beneficial. 

The following assistance may be available for victims or witnesses when are attending court.

Vulnerable witnesses

Witnesses are defined under the Criminal Evidence (NI) Order 1999 as vulnerable where

  • They are under 18 years of age at the time of the hearing of the application for special measures or have given their Achieving Best Evidence video recorded evidence while under 18 but turn 18 years of age before trial; or
  • The quality of his/her evidence is likely to be reduced because of having:
    • A physical disability or a physical disorder
    • A significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning
    • A mental disorder

Where witnesses are considered by the PPS to be vulnerable, we recognise that they may need additional support in order to give evidence. This support can take different forms.

Intimidated Witnesses

The PPS understands that witnesses may find giving evidence unfamiliar and unnerving. They may find the process more difficult if other parties do not wish them to give their evidence. In extreme circumstances witnesses may be subject to intimidation intended to prevent them from giving evidence.

Witnesses are defined under the Criminal Evidence (NI) Order 1999 as intimidated "if the quality of a witness’s evidence is likely to be reduced because of his/her fear or distress in relation to giving evidence at court."

Where police confirm that a witness has been intimidated, it is possible that alternative travel or accommodation arrangements can be made for them to support them in attending court. For instance the VWCU may approve travel arrangements other than public transport or for them to travel to court from a different location.

VWCU may also agree that a designated adult can attend with them as support. Where this has been agreed with the VWCU prior to court, the PPS will then pay the expenses of the supporter in attending court or consultations where the witness is required. 

Individuals under the age of 18

Where a victim or witness is under 18 they are required to be accompanied by an adult. One parent, guardian or other appropriate adult will be designated to attend court or consultations with them whenever they are required.

When a Witness Invitation to Attend is issued to a person under 18, the PPS will also allow one accompanying adult to receive expenses on the same basis as the young person.

Individuals who have a learning disability or mental health issue

Where a victim or witness has a learning disability or mental health issue which makes it difficult for them to attend court and give evidence, the PPS will consider whether a designated adult should attend with them as support.

Where this has been agreed with the PPS Victim and Witness Care Unit at the outset, we will then pay the expenses of this designated adult to accompany the victim or witness whenever they are required to attend. This person’s expenses shall be determined in the same way as if they are a witness in the case.

Where a need has not been identified by Police at the outset but is identified by the VWCU under the Needs Assessment, the PPS will request a GP letter to confirm the requirement for a designated adult.

This victim or witness may also require the support of a Registered Intermediary to assist in their communication at consultations and at court. If a Registered Intermediary has not yet been appointed this service may be offered by the VWCU case officer or prosecutor in the case.

Individuals who have a physical disability

Where a victim or witness has a physical disability or mobility issue (whether through illness, age or other reason) which makes it difficult for them to attend court and give evidence, the VWCU may approve travel arrangements other than public transport, to help the person to attend.  Such arrangements should be agreed in advance with the VWCU and recorded by the Case Officer.

VWCU may agree that a designated adult should attend court with them as support. Where this has been agreed with the VWCU at the outset, the PPS will then pay the expenses of this predetermined companion to also attend court or consultations whenever the victim/witness is required.

When a Witness Invitation to Attend is issued, the PPS will also generate a witness claim form for an accompanying adult who will be entitled to receive expenses on the same basis as the victim or witness they are accompanying.

Nominated representatives

Where the victim of the crime is deceased, either as a result of the crime or subsequently, this may make the experience of a prosecution more difficult for their family. While we recognise that more than one family member may wish to follow the progress of the case, for communication purposes the PPS will request the bereaved family to choose a Nominated Representative to represent them.

This person will be treated by the PPS as if they were the direct victim and they will receive communication, support and expenses on that basis. This will include the provision of a Witness Needs Assessment to identify any additional support they may require for example due to vulnerability.

Witness Assistance

Where a victim or witness has a learning disability, mental health issue, physical disability or mobility issue which makes it difficult for them to attend court and give evidence, the PPS will consider whether a designated adult should attend with them as support.

Where this has been agreed with the VWCU at the outset, the PPS will then pay the expenses of this designated adult to accompany the victim or witness whenever they are required to attend. This person’s expenses shall be determined in the same way as if they are a witness in the case.

Registered Intermediaries

Registered Intermediaries (RIs) are communication specialists used to assist vulnerable prosecution and defence witnesses (including victims, suspects and defendants) to communicate effectively during evidence giving in police investigations, and in any subsequent hearings where they are requested to give evidence in the Magistrates’ Court, Crown Court or other court.

RIs come from a number of professional backgrounds (for example, speech and language therapists or social workers) and have specialist experience in dealing with those who have communication needs. This can include people with an autism spectrum disorder, dementia, learning disabilities, mental health issues, mutism, voice disorders and brain injuries, which affect the ability to communicate.

Interpreters

If a witness cannot understand or communicate in English, the PPS is committed to ensuring they have access to free translation or interpretation at the key stages of their case, if such facilities have been requested.

When the trial date is set, the PPS can make arrangements for an interpreter to be present at court to assist if English is not the witness’s first language.

For further information, contact the PPS Court witness helpdesk telephone: 0845 300 5770

Further reading