Court of Appeal: witness training is not acceptable

Lawyers involved in preparing witnesses for trial will need to keep transparent records following a Court of Appeal ruling on Wednesday (2 February).

The Court of Appeal’s criminal division dismissed an appeal brought by two former detainees at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Detention Centre in Bedfordshire.

The detainees had been found guilty of violent disorder after a riot at the centre in early 2002. During the August 2003 trial it emerged that Group 4, which ran Yarl’s Wood, had arranged training for employees who were potential witnesses, including the use of facts in the trial as a case study.

Penny Cooper, the director of Continuing Professional Development at the Inns of Court School of Law, said the Court of Appeal judgment meant a clear distinction had been drawn between witness training and permissible coaching.

“It’s everyone’s responsibility to make sure you’re on the right side of the line,” Cooper added.

Meanwhile, it also emerged that Norton Rose had been hired by Group 4 after the riot to advise managers and staff during the police investigation. Concerns were raised at the original trial about the advice given, particularly about the firm saying that witnesses should be provided with their written statements. Following the trial, the police made a complaint to the Law Society about the firm’s advice.

The Law Society confirmed that the complaint had been made and said it had found no wrongdoing.