The Ministry of Justice has awarded a £24m grant to Citizens Advice to provide support to witnesses at court over two years.
Citizens Advice takes over the service from Victim Support from 1 April 2015 after the Ministry of Justice opened the funding to competition. Victim Support had previously received £12m per year to deliver support to witnesses and in 2013/14 provided help to almost 200,000 people. Victim Support confirmed to Civil Society News that the charity did bid for the grant and the MoJ said that there were two bidders.
The government said in its response to Getting it Right for Victims and Witnesses consultation that the service would be nationally and competitively commissioned. Citizens Advice has been awarded £24m to deliver the Witness Service between 1 April 2015 and 31 March 2017, with the option to extend for another year.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Citizens Advice has a strong history of supporting staff and volunteers to deliver high quality, independent and impartial advice. We look forward to bringing this expertise and experience to the witness service.”
Mike Penning, victims’ minister, said: “It is vital that people with important evidence know what to expect before entering the courtroom, and it is right that this money goes towards improving their experience and ensuring help is in place.”
All witnesses at criminal trials are entitled to support from the Witness Service, which was started in 1989 by Victim Support.
Baroness Newlove, victims’ commissioner, said: “I hope that Citizens Advice will build on the existing service to ensure that witnesses get the best possible support at such a crucial stage of their journey through the criminal justice system.”
For the year ending March 2013 Victim Support had an income of £48m. More than £39m of the charity’s income came from the MoJ.
A spokesman for Victim Support said: "Victim Support is immensely proud to have pioneered the provision of specialist support for witnesses in criminal courts and to have helped millions of people give their best evidence over the last 25 years.
"Our charity's staff and volunteers will ensure that witnesses continue to receive high quality support during the transition to the new provider chosen by the Ministry of Justice. We will ensure our staff and volunteers are supported during this period.
"Our other services are unaffected by the Ministry of Justice's decision and we remain completely committed to ensuring victims and witnesses get the help they need and the respect they deserve now and in the future."