Volunteer call for witness support

MORE volunteers are needed, as Ipswich courts gear up to have more witnesses giving evidence via a video link.Victim Support's Witness Service ensures witnesses are not the forgotten people in the courtrooms of Ipswich Crown Court and South East Suffolk Magistrates Court.

MORE volunteers are needed, as Ipswich courts gear up to have more witnesses giving evidence via a video link.

Victim Support's Witness Service ensures witnesses are not the forgotten people in the courtrooms of Ipswich Crown Court and South East Suffolk Magistrates Court.

But Maxine Fenn and Renuka Sually, witness service co-ordinators at magistrates and crown court respectively, predict a surging workload after a change in the law allows more vulnerable witnesses to give evidence without being in court alongside the offender.

More volunteers are to be trained in a joint venture between crown and magistrate court services, to help victims, witnesses and their families before, during and after hearings.

Mrs Sually said: "Witnesses play a pivotal role in all sorts of cases, including rape and sexual assault cases with child or vulnerable adult witnesses."

Mrs Fenn said: "Volunteers provide practical help by explaining how the court works, and a listening ear, but know nothing of the crime except the defendant's name and what they have been charged with so they are totally objective."

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Volunteer and mother-of-two Sue Godfrey said volunteers had to be flexible, as trials in court last for unpredictable periods, and a rapport is built up with witnesses.

She said there are difficult times, but support is at hand.

She said: "Witnesses have a lot of emotion running through them, and you can see the weight lifted off their shoulders afterwards. Feedback has shown we can help them through the experience."

Volunteer and postgraduate student Nicky Reed said volunteering also helped build communication skills.

The Ipswich plea comes after Victim Support hit national headlines as a charity in crisis because of a shortage of volunteer counsellors.

Branches across the country had reportedly lost more than 30 per cent of volunteers in four years.

A National Audit Office inquiry found Victim Support volunteers fell from 10,180 in 1996-1997, to 6,970 in 2000-2001 but Victim Support had no national strategy for tackling the crisis.

Ms Fenn said there was no such problem in the court witness service, which was set up at South East Magistrates Court in April this year. The crown court service has been running for five years.

She said: "It is not always easy to attract volunteers, but we received a very good response when we set the service up. A good team of volunteers is essential to ensure the smooth running of this service, which is vital to many people."

To find out more, or to request an application pack, call 01473 221515 or 221656.

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Volunteers need to be:

Available for at least half a day (or more), during the working week between 9am and 5pm.

Committed and reliable

Willing to work within an equal opportunities framework, understanding the needs of different groups in society

Act accordingly to the service's Code of Conduct, and display tact, objectivity, and skills in teamwork, listening and absorbing new ideas.

Interviews will be held in the week commencing December 9 and training will start on January 27.

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