Lord Chief Justice Taylor has called for funding to extend a witness support scheme to magistrates courts.
The Witness Service is available in every Crown Court in England and Wales from this month. The national scheme, run by Victim Support, provides information and support to witnesses, victims and their families attending court.
Speaking at Newcastle Crown Court, Lord Taylor said the Witness Service did a great deal to reduce the burden placed on witnesses. But he said a similar service was needed for magistrates courts, which hear 96 per cent of court cases.
Helen Reeves, director of Victim Support, said: “The Crown Court Witness Service has proved that trained volunteers can provide invaluable assistance to witnesses attending court. At the moment the only people who can benefit from this are the 4 per cent whose cases go to the Crown Courts. Justice demands all witnesses are provided with this service.”
The Government has commissioned Victim Support to carry out a feasibility study on extending the scheme to magistrates courts.
But Home Office funding for Victim Support has been frozen for the next two years and there has been no promise of additional resources. A Home Office spokeswoman said: “We are evaluating the Crown Court scheme with a view to looking at the scope of extending it to the magistrates courts.”
Rosemary Thompson, chair of the Magistrates' Association, said: “The association would like to see advice desks available in all courts to help everyone who comes to court.”