Speaking Up for Justice:
How e-learning is helping vulnerable witnesses and victims of sexual offences
New legislation came into force on 24 July 2002 regarding the treatment of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses, in the Criminal Justice System, following the publication of the ‘Speaking up for Justice ‘ Home Office report in 1998.
As a result, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had to ensure that over 4,000 lawyers and caseworkers were fully trained in the new legislative and non-legislative measures.
To meet the need to train large numbers of geographically dispersed people quickly, the CPS introduced a comprehensive e-learning solution, combined with specialist classroom training.
The programme is now being used internally by the CPS, and has also been made available to its criminal justice system(CJS) partners, such as the Bar, the police and the witness service. It aims to provide the requisite knowledge and to challenge the perceptions and attitudes of those within the CJS relating to vulnerable or intimidated witnesses.
There are now plans to extend the e-learning programme, offering the service to the Law Society and to a range of voluntary agencies. A key benefit of the e-learning package is that it can also be easily updated as case law develops and new legislation comes into force.
The ‘Speaking up for Justice’ report made 78 recommendations to improve access to justice for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses, ranging from the investigative stage, before a trial, during a trial and after a trial.
The CPS recognised using classroom training alone would be expensive, time consuming, and difficult to update. Given time pressure, and the number of people requiring training, the CPS decided to break with tradition and create a blended solution by introducing an e-learning tool, combined with classroom training.
To meet this objective, CPS contracted IQdos, the UK’s first e-learning consultancy, to design and deliver the e-learning component. The e-learning programme is mandatory to complete before attending the classroom training and covers methods of identifying vulnerability, what the legal measures are and how to apply them.
The corresponding three-day classroom course identifies the skills and attitude changes needed to deal effectively with the range of witnesses who may be eligible for assistance under the provisions of the Act. The classroom component is run by internal CPS training staff in partnership with the Ann Craft Trust, a national association dedicated to protecting adults and children with learning difficulties from abuse.
Objectives of the e-learning project
The IQdos team was asked to design a solution to ensure that all those involved in the support of vulnerable and intimidated witnesses in their preparation for Court, have the basic legal knowledge to enable them to understand and implement the legislative provisions.
The e-learning solution needed to address a number of issues:
- Large numbers and variety of users, different locations and IT considerations
- Short lead and production times to meet 24 July deadline (IQdos was contracted from May 2002)
- Need for cost-effective solution to dedicated budget
- Flexibility and the need for the CPS to maintain and update the content themselves
- Content management of large amounts of data, navigation and different levels of access for varied users.
What technology was used?
IQdos created a solution unique to the CPS, using the interactive learning technology of the product, LaunchPad, as a base. The LaunchPad software is a dynamic e-learning authoring, content management and tracking tool, which enables organizations to create, edit and publish their own e-Learning content. The key feature of LaunchPad is that it is as easy to use as Powerpoint, therefore enabling training staff to develop courses without the need for computer programming skills.
The course can be delivered over different technologies, from Internet access to all types of network, which means all users can receive high-level e-learning using the most basic IT systems. There was therefore no need for expensive hardware investment and extensive involvement from internal CPS IT resources.
The project is a courageous move to action legislative requirements and drive fundamental changes in the treatment of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses.
Sheelagh Morton, Policy Advisor, Crown Prosecution Service, said: “This blended initiative has marked an end to formal legal lectures in a classroom setting. It has required a fundamental shift in the approach to legal training with lawyers using the e-learning to equip themselves with the required ‘knowledge.’ The e-learning enables lawyers to access research and update their legal ‘know-how’ at the right time.”
“Successful legal cases have already followed the introduction of the legislation, including a case in which a man was jailed for 5 years for indecent assault after his disabled victim gave evidence to a jury via a TV link from her bed. The victim, a woman with multiple sclerosis, gave evidence over a live link to court from a nursing home. The conviction represents the first successful outcome of a case involving the special measures under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act1999.”
The e-learning programme means that members of the Criminal Justice System will:
- Be familiar with the new legislation and available guidance to inform best practice
- Be enabled to identify vulnerable or intimidated witnesses
- Be able to explain their role in the identification of vulnerable or intimidated witnesses through the court process
- Have access to detailed information about the law, practice and procedure for lawyers and case workers involving vulnerable or intimidated witnesses
The package will need to be updated and amended as the law is applied by the courts and additional rulings are made. The CPS is planning to extend the e-learning in 2003, to cover issues arising from a report into rape prosecutions and, over the next three years, the CPS will deliver a range of essential training packages online.