chapter  18
16 Pages

Victims and witnesses in criminal investigation

WithNicholas Fyfe, Kevin Smith

These two comments capture something of the paradoxical position witnesses find themselves in within the criminal justice system. On the one hand, their role in assisting police investigations and giving evidence in court is crucial to the success of criminal prosecutions. As Spencer and Stern (2001: 17) note, crime is rarely hidden from public view: ‘Whether it is a pub brawl, vandalism, shoplifting, burglary or domestic violence, someone frequently sees or knows the offence is taking place.’ On the other hand, the participation of witnesses in the criminal justice system has, until quite recently, largely been taken for granted. Research evidence suggests that their experiences at court are typically characterized by a mix of inconvenience caused by delays in the trial process; indifference on the part of criminal justice agencies; and feelings of intimidation due to the unfamiliar environment of the court and the legal process as well as the presence of the accused and his or her associates (see Rock 1991; Fyfe 2001).