Last Wednesday, April 1st was the day Citizens’ Advice Witness Service went live, the day the court based service that supports witnesses and their families across England and Wales switched from Victim Support to Citizens’ Advice. Our team at Supporting Justice have been deeply involved in the run up to this day and have been working with Citizens’ Advice over the last twelve months, firstly to win the bid and then help prepare for a smooth and effective transfer (despite the inauspicious date!). We have provided subject matter expertise and background knowledge and intelligence so that Citizens’ Advice could best support the witness service staff transferring over. We all aimed to ensure colleagues were prepared for the day when all the planning, expectations and not a few frustrations were eventually realised.

And so it was that last Wednesday 1st April the Supporting Justice team arrived at Citizens’ Advice HQ in London and at a CAB office in the West Midlands to be on hand to provide back up and support to front line staff who began to deliver the service in courts up and down the country under the new auspices of Citizens Advice. As well as the sense of anticipation that was tangible there was also a sense of nervousness that day one would go well and that staff, volunteers and, above all, witnesses would feel that they were in safe hands. And that’s what the service is all about: making sure that witnesses and those who come to court with them feel supported, valued, listened to and safe.

So, how was day one? Well, not unexpectedly there were the ever present issues in any such transfer: technical teething troubles with I.T. and telephones. But when it came to the core, fundamentals of the service, the people, it was an overwhelming success. Staff and volunteers seemed delighted with the way it went and that was surely reflected in the quality of support that was offered to witnesses. The transfer, on the day, was, to use a slightly overworked phrase, seamless and feedback from colleagues in the field (where it really matters) was positive and, indeed, enthusiastic. Even though we all know that one day of sun does not a summer make (the sun is shining brightly at the moment) all the first signs for the service are positive and encouraging.

Yes, the transfer went well. It did so because there was a huge amount of work done beforehand, at Citizens’ Advice HQ and in the field, to make sure that all the key players, witnesses, volunteers and operational staff would have a positive first experience of the new service provider. And the staff and volunteers who have transferred from Victim Support must be commended on their enthusiasm to maintain this vital service to witnesses.  We at Supporting Justice are pleased to have played our part in getting the service to this point and to have been able to make a positive contribution to what we hope and expect will be an ever improving service for witnesses who go to court to give evidence.

Citizens’ Advice has taken on a big job and huge responsibility; we can surely, if day one was anything to go by, have every confidence that they will more than live up to the task.