Vulnerable Witnesses – Awareness for Social Workers

Effective communication and partnership working between the Police, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), Registered Intermediary Service, Social Worker and the wider Voluntary Sector is crucial in creating the best possible outcomes for adults who become involved, as witnesses, in the Criminal Justice System (CJS).

The key issue for the CJ agencies to consider when they are working with an adult with care and support needs (vulnerable person) is the possibility and likelihood that this person may have an active Social Worker, who they should seek to make contact with, in relation to the support they may need progressing through the CJ process.

Conversely Social Workers’ who already know that a client is involved in the CJ process should pro-actively be considering the available options in relation to the victim support network; and in conjunction with this, understand the role they can play if they are contacted by other professionals (Police, CPS or Registered Intermediary).

There is an extensive range of organisations available to help an individual progressing through the CJS; however this victim support network is not always coherently connected or understood by professionals. The following links provide an insight into this:

The case notes and reports of Social Workers can be drawn into the CJ arena, which magnifies cpsthe need for accuracy, factual and up to date recording, and eliminating the use of un-qualified ‘opinions’. The following feedback has been provided by the CPS in line with this (June 2015):

When an adult (vulnerable person) goes through the CJ process and they are receiving support at the time or shortly after the offence, the notes are third party material and can be summonsed to court or dealt with under the third party protocol. The notes can then be put to the witness after they give their evidence if there is a relevant point.

Examples:

  1. Where a person has explained what has happened to a Social Worker and then given an explanation in court which is slightly different; the person can be cross examined about the notes. Often there is a question of accuracy in the Social Workers notes
  2. There have been examples when professionals have put their ‘opinion’ about what has happened and the complainant has been cross examined about this
  3. There are some myths about the CJ process which may not be understood (example: people being told that they cannot seek therapy pre-trial, which is not correct).

Learning Outcomes Report – Witness Support Preparation & Profiling Protocol (WSPP). July 2015