GOING TO court as a witness can be an intimidating experience for anyone involved in criminal proceedings for the first time.

Luckily, a voluntary organisation operates in Feltham to help those who have to appear in court as a witness.

But the Witness Service needs more volunteers to come on board and help in west London. A hunt has started for dedicated, empathetic, listeners to join the team.

Feltham journalist Jessica Thompson went to Feltham Magistrates Court on Friday to find out more.


 

Court.

A pretty scary place if the TV is anything to go by.

On soap operas and film sets the courtroom comes across as a place where witnesses are aggressively questioned by angry judges, so it is no surprise that people called to court as a witness may feel a little apprehensive.

But in reality it is quite different, according to Dave Gibson, the manager of Witness Service in Feltham, an organisation which provides advice and guidance for witnesses in criminal trials.

He said: "We explain to people that it's not like what you see on the TV. We put people at ease.

"The purpose is to make sure witnesses in court proceedings are well looked after. The service has been running in the area for about 18 years and we get a lot of feedback from witnesses afterwards saying how much it helped them."

A team of five volunteers currently work from Monday to Friday at the court in Feltham. They provide a valuable service for volunteers called to court, which ranges from listening to the worries and fears of people attending a trial to give evidence, to arranging video links for those who cannot go into the court room.

The service is looking for at least another 15 volunteers to lend their time at local courts in west London including Feltham and Isleworth Crown Court.

Volunteers can give as much or as little time as they want, with the minimum amount starting at one working day every fortnight. Some helpers work two or three days a week.

Training is provided, and new volunteers will shadow others until they are ready to work on their own. There is no upper age limit on volunteers, although they must be over 18.

Mr Gibson said: "We liaise a lot with the police, they will tell us that a witness is coming in. When they turn up we will offer them our services, it is very rare that anyone ever turns it down."

Witnesses are usually taken to a separate room and are offered refreshments, they also have the chance to talk to volunteers about how they are feeling and what their concerns might be. Volunteers will offer as much help as they can, although they are not allowed to discuss evidence or talk about the possible outcomes of a trial.

Witnesses are also welcome to come to court before the trial and have a tour of an empty court room, so they can have a feel for the environment, and where they will stand.

Potential volunteers need to be flexible, according to Mr Gibson, and be good listeners.

He added: "We need people who can listen to a witness and reassure them, people with lots of empathy.

"The best part of the job is the fact that it is so interesting. There's always something going on, and you learn so much about life and people. The most challenging part is dealing with people who are very upset or nervous, but it is very rewarding."

Anyone wanting to find out more about becoming a volunteer with the Witness Service can call Mr Gibson on 0208 7516604 or email mcws.brentford@vslondon.org