Guest blog: Anna Vigars QC - vulnerable witness training on the Western Circuit

9 November 2017

There is light at the end of what felt like a very long tunnel in December of last year when we began training facilitators for vulnerable witness training on the Western Circuit. Our final training session will happen on 2nd December.

We approached the task of training by holding three sessions to train facilitators, several from each of the sets of any size on the Circuit. Each of them was told that they had an obligation to train those within their own set and then to train at least once in one of the Circuit-wide sessions that were planned to catch those unable to attend their own Circuit training or outside those larger sets. We have been extremely well-supported by the efficiency of our Circuit Secretary, Charlotte Feest, who has kept lists of those requiring training, those who have signed up, those who have gone AWOL, and those who have actually completed the training.

Some sets were more efficient than others at organising their own training sessions so that most in-Chambers training was done before the summer of 2017. Those few sets who had not got dates in the diary were nagged remorselessly until they arranged a course. By the end of September, all Chambers training sessions had been completed and we were able to offer two Circuit-wide sessions. One of those happened in Bristol on 21st October and trained just under 30 people.

The final session will happen in Winchester on 2nd December and will train about 45 people. The Circuit has been in touch with all criminal practitioners, reminding them of their obligation to take the course.  There are very few  who have chosen not to attend a course nor to contact the Circuit despite extensive opportunities to partake. We have included silks and pupils in our training so that we have covered as many people as possible.

The courses have almost universally been attended by people who have left refreshingly less sceptical than when they arrived, people who have had a chance to reflect on their own practice and have found it useful to spend time considering how to approach delicate material and vulnerable witnesses. There have been robust exchanges as to what is and is not possible under the new way of working but a general acknowledgement that the course has been useful and enlightening.  It has been illuminating and encouraging to see criminal teams in sets across the Circuit working together to address all the issues thrown up by the new teaching.

Anna Vigars QC is a barrister at Guildhall Chambers, Committee Member of the Western Circuit and sits on the Bar Council's Vulnerable Witnesses Advocacy Training Working Group