COVID-19 - A message to Victims and Witnesses
The Coronavirus pandemic has had a big impact on so many aspects of our daily lives and across many support services, including the criminal justice system. As a victim of crime or a witness we want you to be reassured that your case is important and you are still very much a priority.
We understand that you may be experiencing increased uncertainty as you await completion of your case through your local criminal justice system and therefore wanted you to be aware of the actions that are being taken to support you and to progress your case.
Through the Wiltshire Criminal Justice Board, partners from across the local criminal justice system, including the police, crown prosecution service, courts, prison, probation, youth offending and defence work together. We have all been focussed on supporting the courts to get back up and running, addressing the delays as a result of the pandemic and improve the progression of cases through the system. We are committed to progressing your case as soon as possible and to give you support during this exceptional time.
How can you get support?
We are all committed to putting victims and witnesses first and it is more important than ever that you are supported at this time. We are making sure that every victim and witness of crime receives a coordinated, consistent end to end service providing support and guidance from point of contact with Wiltshire Police throughout their criminal justice journey. To ensure this funding has been provided for additional staff to the teams supporting you while you are waiting to go to court.
Within Wiltshire, this service is provided by Horizon victim and witness care. The Horizon team provide ongoing support, updates and information to all victims and witnesses going through the court system. A Victim and Witness Liaison Officer from the Horizon team will have been in touch with you to keep you updated about your case and any delays there may be. They will continue to do this as and when further information is available and will answer any questions you may have about your hearing, courts and the criminal justice process.
We acknowledge that any delay to your case may feel unsettling and we would encourage you to continue to access specialist support. There are a range of support services for victims and witnesses which can be provided locally, please discuss these with your dedicated Horizon Victim and Witness liaison officer who can explain your options and arrange this for you. You can contact your liaison officer directly via the contact details within your letter, or can ring on the Horizon office 01380 861157 open weekdays 9am - 5pm.
Are courts up and running?
Both Swindon and Salisbury courts are now open and jury trials are at full capacity with four crown court rooms running across the two centres, there are however significant delays. We are working through outstanding court work as a result of the pandemic as quickly as possible but it will take us some time.
It remains a priority to find ways to increase the number of cases being heard in court. In Wiltshire this has so far included:
- Utilising additional courts by opening on Saturdays
- Plexiglass screens are being fitted in courts to separate members of the jury to enable more jury trials to take place, and hearings that have more than one defendant
- Bringing in more legal advisors to support court resources
Are courts covid safe?
The priority for the court service is the safety of all those that attend. Comprehensive risk assessments have been undertaken in all court centres and these are reviewed every week
A number of new measures have been put in place in courts, all endorsed by Public Health England, to make them covid safe including:
- Alterations have been made in court rooms to allow for social distancing
- Plexi glass screens installed in court rooms and jury deliberation rooms
- Deliberation rooms have been set up to allow social distancing
- Limiting numbers on site
- The wearing of face coverings
- Touchpoint cleaning
- Hand sanitising stations
- Floor markings and one way systems
- Those attending court being asked to bring their own water bottles and holy books to take the oath
When will my case be heard?
We are working hard to tackle the delays and we are looking to resolve the most serious cases first. We are aware of the impact of the delays on you and the uncertainty you face not know when your trial will be but at the current time it is not possible to give an exact date for all cases yet.
The Witness Care Units in Wiltshire have increased their resources to provide the best service ensuring victims and witnesses are kept informed. Witness Care Unit officers are regularly meeting with the CPS and courts to ensure victims and witness needs are taken into account.
The long term plan is that by the end of December there will be more Crown Courts operating across the region than pre-covid levels which will help to increase the number of cases going through the court.
Where do I go for more information?
We will keep you updated as more information becomes available and developments are made to enable your case to be heard. Please visit www.wiltshire-pcc.gov.uk/article/6481/Wiltshire-Criminal-Justice-Board where we will also add updates on the progress
We are very aware of the impact of the delays on you at what is already a difficult time but please be reassured you are a priority and are at the heart of the criminal justice system. Partners are working together across the criminal justice system to reduce the delays and improve the timeliness of all cases being heard.
Thank you for your understanding.