Child victims 'need court support'

Published Monday, 09 June 2014
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Some child victims in Northern Ireland feel abused for a second time when testifying in court, a charity has said.

Child victims 'need court support'
The NSPCC has said some child victims feel abused a second time giving evidence. (© UTV)

The NSPCC has said more needs to be done to achieve better access to justice for children in the region.

The charity is calling for children to be allowed to testify remotely via a pre-recorded interview played during court proceedings.

It also said support services should be expanded and barristers should receive more training on the needs of child witnesses.

Service Manager Bronagh Muldoon has said that while NI is leading the way compared to other parts of the UK, additional things should be done to ensure children are supported to give their best evidence.

"It's vital that children are not subjected to harrowing experiences in court to get the justice they deserve," she said.

"Whilst it is evident we are leading the way here in NI compared to other parts of the UK, some children still feel they are being abused for a second time when they give evidence."

If this is the view that children have of the court experience it's likely to discourage others who have suffered to come forward.

Bronagh Muldoon, NSPCC

She continued: "We need to listen to the feedback from children and families. Surely the system should be making every effort to ensure this is not the terrifying ordeal that many experience.

"A child who has been sexually abused shouldn't have to fret about bumping into the offender in court or being subjected to a brutal cross-examination by barristers. After all, if they are helped to give their best evidence it will lead to be better for justice for all."

One victim, who was sexually abused as a child, described her experience of being cross-examined in court as "intimidating".

She said: "At one point he said 'Are you sure you didn't imagine this?' I couldn't believe what he'd said and thought what six-year-old imagines that?

"You don't even know about stuff like that when you're six. I think he needed the help, not me. I don't know how people like that can sleep at night."

He called me a liar and said 'I was making it up as I went.'

Child victim

The NSPCC's Young Witness Service, which receives substantial financial support from the Department of Justice (DoJ), has been operating in Northern Ireland for over 15 years and is leading the way for supporting child victims.

It is available in all courts in Northern Ireland and has supported more than 4,000 children and young people since it was set up.

Ms Muldoon added: "This is the only service in the United Kingdom where fully qualified social work practitioners support children as witnesses in court. They understand the impact a trial can have on children and have the knowledge and experience required both to support the child in court and also identify additional therapeutic services should these be needed."

The service was established following recommendations from the landmark Pigot Report (1989) which identified the need for more support and preparation in order for children to be able to give their best evidence in court.

Bronagh Muldoon, NSPCC Service Manager continued: "Some young witnesses experience searing cross-examinations from lawyers which they report as belittling and bewildering while others have been left distressed after encountering their abuser in the court premises."

© UTV News
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