Supporting vulnerable witnesses

A support person’s role is to provide a vulnerable witness in a criminal matter with support and reassurance throughout the prosecution process.

 

Being a support person

In NSW, vulnerable witnesses in serious criminal cases are entitled to have a support person near them in court, to reduce as much as possible the stress of giving evidence.

This includes witnesses who are children, intellectually impaired, or complainants in sexual assault matters.

Other vulnerable witnesses can have a support person with them if the judge or magistrate agrees.

While being in court on the day is a support person’s ‘official’ role, vulnerable witnesses also need support and reassurance before they appear in court and afterwards.

If you are a support person, talk to the witness about how best you can support them throughout the prosecution process. This may mean, for example, going with them to meet the prosecutor ahead of the court case, and going back to court for other important parts of the case they may want to attend, such as when the jury returns its verdict, or for sentencing.

Who can be a support person?

It’s up to the witness to choose their support person. They can be, for example, a parent, guardian, relative, friend, professional counsellor, or someone else. Some vulnerable witnesses can have more than one support person if they need them, for example, a family member and a counsellor.

Not everyone has someone who can fill this role, and there are services in NSW that can provide support where needed (see Financial and other support and information). In matters the ODPP is prosecuting, a Witness Assistance Service (WAS) officer can sometimes be a support person.

It’s important to know that you cannot be a support person if you are a witness or a potential witness in the case – if you are, the judge or magistrate can disallow you as the witness’s choice.