Victims and witnesses given extra support as COVID-19 delays trials
Victims and witnesses involved in the criminal justice system are being given extra help as COVID-19 causes trials to be delayed.

Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd has funded a support programme for those who are due to give evidence in court cases.

Last year almost a quarter of all trials that failed to proceed were because of victim or witness issues. It is feared this figured could rise as the backlog means cases are taking even longer to come to court.

Now the Commissioner has funded two pilot projects for a year which provide online virtual support 24 hours a day, with the aim of supporting victims and improving the failure rate of court cases.

The digital platform site provides help for adults, while is aimed at children going through the criminal justice system. They have accredited councillors to offer advice, to which clients will be referred by Beacon, Hertfordshire’s victim care centre.

Mr Lloyd said: “This is an innovative project aiming to help victims and witnesses get through the stressful and daunting criminal process system.

“By providing access to support online, the aim is that more people than ever will be able to access the often vital help to which they are entitled.

“This will help them personally deal with and recover from the trauma, and also seek to reduce the number of court cases which fail because of witnesses failing to participate.

“The COVID-19 crisis has put particular strain on the court system, so this assistance is needed now more than ever.”

Kooth and Qwell are both accredited British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy services. Run by XenZone, they offer users access to a range of online support services, including peer-to-peer forums which are safe and pre-moderated and one-on-one anonymous counselling sessions.

Sessions are available from 12pm to 10pm on weekdays and 6pm to 10pm on weekends and can be booked in advance or through a drop-in session. Services can be accessed without any waiting lists, thresholds or referrals.  

“As trials are pushed and the strain is felt by the victims we support, digital services are needed more than ever to address the demand,” said Emma Jones, Service Manager for Catch22 at Beacon.

“By offering alternative types of support like XenZone’s digital counselling service, we can address the significant gap of counselling services for domestic and sexual violence victims, and for witnesses awaiting to give evidence at trial. This will have such a positive impact on the Hertfordshire individuals we support.”

Dr Lynne Green, XenZone’s chief clinical officer added, “We’re so pleased to be partnering with Beacon and Hertfordshire Police and Crime Commissioner to help support victims of crime and domestic/sexual abuse in Hertfordshire.”