This chapter provides information for multi-agency professionals about criminal offences in relation to adult safeguarding. It outlines some of the special measures that can be taken in relation to gathering evidence and victims and other witnesses giving evidence, as well as supporting victims and witnesses who are vulnerable or intimidated during the investigation and trial process.
Everyone is entitled to be protected by the law and have access to justice. Although the local authority has the lead in making enquiries in adult safeguarding cases, where criminal activity is suspected involving the police as soon as possible is likely to be beneficial in many cases.
- physical or sexual assault or rape;
- psychological abuse or hate crime;
- wilful neglect;
- unlawful imprisonment;
- theft and fraud;
- certain forms of discrimination.
For the purpose of a court trial, a witness is deemed to be competent if they can understand the questions and respond in a way that the court can understand. Police have a duty to assist witnesses who are vulnerable and intimidated.
2. Special Measures
A range of special measures are available to aid gathering and giving of evidence by vulnerable and intimidated witnesses.
These should be considered from the onset of a police investigation, and can include:
- an immediate referral from adult social care or other concerned agency
- discussion with the police will enable the police to establish whether a criminal act has been committed. This will give an opportunity to determine if, and at what stage, the police need to become involved further and undertake a criminal investigation;
- the police have powers to take specific protective actions, such as Domestic Violence Protection Orders (DVPO);
- as a higher standard of proof is required in criminal proceedings (‘beyond reasonable doubt’) than in disciplinary or regulatory proceedings (where the test is the balance of probabilities), so early contact with the police may help to obtain evidence and witness statements;
- early involvement of the police helps to ensure that forensic evidence is not lost or contaminated;
- police officers need to have considerable skill in investigating and interviewing adults with different disabilities and communication needs, in order to prevent the adult being interviewed unnecessarily on other occasions. Research has found that sometimes evidence from victims and witnesses with learning disabilities is discounted. This may also apply to others such as people with dementia. It is crucial that reasonable adjustments are made and appropriate support given, so everyone can have equal access to justice;
- police investigations should be coordinated with health and social care enquiries but may take priority. The local authority’s duty to ensure the wellbeing and safety of the person continues throughout a criminal investigation;
- appropriate support during the criminal justice process should be available from local organisations such as Victim Support and court preparation schemes;
- some witnesses will need protection from the accused or their associates (see Section 3, Adults Witnesses who are Vulnerable or Intimidated, below);
- the police may be able to arrange support for victims.
Special Measures were introduced in the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and include a range of interventions to support witnesses to give their best evidence and to help reduce anxiety when attending court. These include the use of screens around the witness box, the use of live (video) link or recorded evidence and the use of an intermediary to help witnesses understand the questions they are being asked and to give their answers accurately.
3. Adult Witnesses who are Vulnerable or Intimidated
Adults who are deemed as vulnerable witnesses have:
- a mental health disorder;
- a learning disability; and / or
- a physical disability.
These witnesses are only eligible for special measures if the quality of the evidence that will be given by them is likely to be diminished because of their disorder or disability.
Intimidated witnesses are those whose quality of evidence is likely to be diminished because of fear or distress. In deciding whether a witness comes into this category the court takes account of:
- the nature and alleged circumstances of the offence;
- the age of the witness;
- the social and cultural background and ethnic origins of the witness;
- the domestic and employment circumstances of the witness;
- any religious beliefs or political opinions of the witness;
- any behaviour towards the witness by the accused or third party.
Also coming into this category are:
- complainants in cases of sexual assault;
- witnesses to specified gun and knife offences;
- victims of and witnesses to domestic abuse, racially motivated crime, crime motivated by reasons relating to religion, homophobic crime, gang related violence and repeat victimisation;
- those who are older and frail;
- the families of murder victims.
Registered Intermediaries (RIs) help communicate with vulnerable witnesses during the criminal justice process.
As noted above, a criminal investigation by the police takes priority over all other enquiries.
However a multi-agency approach should be agreed, to ensure that the interests and personal wishes of the adult are considered throughout, even if the adult decides not to provide any evidence or support a prosecution.
The welfare of the adult. and others including children, is paramount and requires continued risk assessment to ensure the outcome is in their interests and enhances their wellbeing.
If the adult has the mental capacity to make informed decisions about their safety and they do not want any action to be taken, this does not prevent information being shared with relevant colleagues. This enables all professionals to assess the risk of harm and be confident that the adult is not being unduly influenced, coerced or intimidated and is aware of all the options available to them. This will also enable professionals to share decision making and risk management to ensure that decisions made are safe and valid. The adult should be informed of this action unless doing so would increase the risk of harm to them.