Guest Blog: Marios Leptos of the Citizens Advice Witness Service

3 November 2016

Free, independent support for defence witnesses 

Marios Leptos

The Citizens Advice Witness Service offers support to defence and prosecution witnesses. Last year, we provided practical information and emotional support to 180,000 witnesses in around 270 criminal courts across England and Wales. 

In 2015/16, defence witnesses made up 2% of the witnesses we supported. The majority of the witnesses we support are giving evidence for the prosecution - this is mainly because we know when we're expecting prosecution witnesses and can work with them in advance. Currently, we don't know when to expect most defence witnesses as only a small number of those we supported were referred in advance. Our research indicates that the defence community largely don't know what we offer and the benefits of referring witnesses to us. 

The benefit to you and your witnesses

There are real benefits to referring witnesses to our service. When witnesses feel informed and supported, they're more likely to attend court. 

Witness Service staff and volunteers go far beyond offering witnesses and their families a cup of tea and a friendly face. They are highly trained to support both defence and prosecution witnesses and they show incredible dedication to ensure the service is independent of the police, prosecution agencies and the courts.  

A key part of the work we do is offering pre-trial visits for witnesses, so that they are familiar with the court environment and court processes before they give their evidence. By attending a pre-trial visit, your witnesses will know what to expect when they arrive at court. We provide additional support for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses before, during and after trial.  

So you can spend more time with your clients, we can also keep defence witnesses informed of proceedings on the day of trial. In most courts we can provide a separate waiting room for defence witnesses, avoiding contact with the prosecution. 

We can also provide someone for witnesses to talk to in confidence (but not about the evidence in the case). We can even signpost and refer witnesses who have other problems to Citizens Advice and other organisations. Support from the Witness Service can help witnesses feel more confident and able to give their best evidence. 

All our support is tailored to meet the individual needs of witnesses including those who are vulnerable and intimidated. 

Referring your witnesses

We know there are many defence witnesses across England and Wales who are missing out on the services we provide. With your help we can help more witnesses get the support they need. 

We've made it easier for you to refer your witnesses in advance. To start working with us please encourage those who are responsible for organising witnesses to use our online referral form.

Marios Leptos, Head of the Citizens Advice Witness Service 

About the Witness Service

The Witness Service has supported witnesses in crown courts since 1996 and in all criminal courts in England and Wales since 2003. It became part of Citizens Advice on 1 April 2015.