Justice Minister meets those who support children at court

Date published: 06 October 2016

Justice Minister, Claire Sugden today visited the staff and volunteers of the NSPCC Young Witness Service.

The Department of Justice provides funding of £418,000 to the NSPCC Young Witness Service to ensure a range of support services are available to young prosecution witnesses to enable them to give their best evidence at court.

As part of the visit the Minister met Connie, an assistance therapy dog, which is helping to reduce the stress of vulnerable children at court.

Speaking after the visit, the Minister said: “It is crucial that children and young people participating in the criminal justice system have access to the support they need. I have seen today how the support services provided by the staff and volunteers of the NSPCC Young Witness Service help young witnesses have a more positive experience at court.

“The strong partnership between my Department and the NSPCC in the delivery of this service underlines the importance placed on helping children and young people feel able to tell the court about what has happened to them.”

The Minister added: “I applaud the NSPCC Young Witness Service for exploring new ways to improve the support on offer to children and young people attending court. Having met Connie, a therapy dog, and heard how she can help to reduce the stress experienced by vulnerable children at court, I believe that young witnesses will benefit from this.”   

Commenting on the visit, Neil Anderson, NSPCC Head of Services for Northern Ireland said: “We welcome the Minister's interest in and commitment to the NSPCC Young Witness Service as one of the special measures to support young people in giving evidence in court settings. Children tell us it makes a real difference to what can be a very bewildering environment.”

Notes to editors: 

1. The Department of Justice has been funding the NSPCC Young Witness Service since 2001.

2. The NSPCC Young Witness Service provides support services to young prosecution witnesses (under the age of 18) called to give evidence in all Crown, Magistrates' and Youth Courts in Northern Ireland.

3. In 2015-16 574 young prosecution witnesses were supported.

4. The NSPCC Young Witness Service has partnered with Assistance Dogs NI since March 2016 to pilot the use of Connie the therapy dog in Laganside Court, Belfast.

5. All media enquiries should be directed to the Department of Justice Press Office 028 9052 6444.  Out of office hours please contact the duty press officer via pager number 07623 974383 and your call will be returned.

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