Witness support volunteers

What is a witness support volunteer?

A witness support volunteer offers to assist persons who have been called to give evidence in a court case.

The witness support volunteer is to supply practical information about what happens in court and offer the witnesses empathetic support and guidance, both before and immediately after the court hearing, and perhaps also on some occasions in the course of the hearing.

Link to witness support brochure

Improving service to witnesses

Witnesses may easily get the impression that they are not all that important to the courts. They are often let in to make their statement long after the appointed hour, perhaps without having had anybody to turn to in the waiting area. In many places the facilities offered may also vary, and witnesses for the defendant may in some cases have to sit side by side with witnesses for the prosecution. Anyone working in a court and who is called to give evidence in a court case will soon discover that more could be done for the witnesses. Establishing a system of witness support volunteer is therefore an important contribution to improving the court’s service to its users.

Pracitcal information 

The witness support volunteer is to give practical information about the court hearing. This means that he or she must have knowledge of court proceedings and the legal system as well as the ability to make contact with people, provide unbiased information and play a supportive role. The witness support volunteer must be able to communicate without getting involved in the case. A witness support volunteer cannot advise the witness on what to say or not to say, and his or her assignment is terminated when the witness leaves the courthouse.

The work of a witness support volunteer is primarily intended for witnesses in criminal proceedings. Civil disputes are also brought before the courts every day, and also witnesses in civil disputes may feel uncertain about what they will face in the courtroom and therefore require guidance. Naturally, the witness support volunteers will provide assistance to them as well.

Due process of law, public service and volunteerism

 “A confident witness is a good witness” is a maxim closely connected with the witness support service. This expression suggests that a witness who is able to concentrate on his or her statement will help to provide the court with the best possible basis for its decision. If witnesses receive as much information as possible about what is to happen, for example who is who and where everyone will be sitting, they will feel less uncertain when they make their appearance in the courtroom.

Experiences made so far suggest that witnesses feel that any uncertainty relating to their testimony will be reduced if they can rely on a well-functioning witness support service. This means that such a service will promote closer adherence to due process of law.

Another important justification for the use of witness support volunteers is the wish to provide a good service. Most courts do not have the personnel resources necessary to receive and guide witnesses before they enter the courtroom and after they have made their statement. Guidelines are provided in the summons to appear in court and perhaps in brochures and information screens in the courthouse. The judge is naturally obliged to provide information, but he or she is not present in the waiting area. Many witnesses have to wait for a long time before being called to testify, and unfortunately they are not always informed of delays. The presence of witness support volunteers will obviously raise the court’s service level substantially.

In Norway, the witness support service is based on volunteerism. This means that the witness support volunteers are neutral: they have no connection with the parties, nor are they employed in the courts. To the witnesses, it will doubtless be important to receive assistance from persons who have volunteered for this task, with no thought of a reward.

Court of Appeals with witness support:

Agder Court of Appeal 
Borgarting Court of Appeal
Eidsivating Court of Appeal
Frostating Court of Appeal
Gulating Court of Appeal
Hålogaland Court of Appeal

District Courts with witness support:

Alta District Court
Asker og Bærum District Court
Aust-Agder District Court
Bergen District Court
Drammen District Court
Fjordane District Court
Follo District Court
Fredrikstad District Court
Gjøvik Distict Court
Hedmarken District Court
Haugaland District Court
Inntrøndelag District Court 
Jæren District Court
Kristiansand District Court
Moss District Court
Namdal District Court 
Nedre Romerike District Court
Nedre Telemark District Court
Nord-Troms District Court
Nordmøre District Court
Oslo District Court
Romsdal District Court 
Salten District Court
Stavanger District Court
Sunnmøre District Court
Sør-Trøndelag District Court
Sør-Østerdal District Court
Trondenes District Court
Øst-Finnmark District Court
Øvre Romerike District Court

Who can be a witness support volunteer?

The witness support volunteers must be able to speak and understand Norwegian and must be over the age of 18. It is an advantage that witness support volunteers in each court cover a wide age range and it is also valuable that they represent different backgrounds, professionally, socially and ethnically.
The witness support volunteers should not have a criminal record and not be employed in the courts of law, the police or the correctional services. Nor should they currently discharge other duties in the courts, for example that of lay judges. They may of course have performed such work previously in the government services mentioned above.