Meet Leah Julier, Witness Care Unit Team Leader
What does the Witness Care Unit do?
The Witness Care Unit is a practical and sometimes emotional support team within Criminal Justice, as police staff members we help to look after victims and witnesses when they are going through the court process. Up until the first hearing, the officer in charge of the case will look after the victim or witness, but after that, the court case will reach our unit, we are then responsible for looking after the victim or witness.
We follow The Victim’s Code, making sure that the victims or witnesses know exactly what it is that they are going to be doing, what they are entitled to and make them feel safe and comfortable whilst they are going through the court process. We conduct detailed needs assessment for them to find out what they need whilst they are going through court. Due to the number of cases it is a fast-paced environment.
What are the key skills that you need in the Witness Care Unit?
People skills: The most important skill is the ability to communicate with anyone, whether it be a witness, a victim, or a judge. We have to be able to adapt our communication accordingly, being able to identify, understand and empathise with different groups of people is essential.
The most important thing about our role is remembering that not one size fits all. Although we still have to get victims or witnesses through a static Criminal Justice System, we do not have to get them all through the same route; we can find different avenues to get them to the same location.
Listening and engaging: In our roles, we can have difficult conversations, as we often have victims or witnesses who are terrified and sometimes at their wits end, unable to articulate words to us on the phone, so we have to be careful with the way we have conversations and make sure that we really understand what is happening.
We have to scratch benefit the surface to find out what is really going on, rather than looking at things at a surface level. There might be instances when a victim or witness might not want to go to a court or trial, and when we try to find out the reason why so that we can find the best ways to help them go forward, a lot goes on behind the scenes.
Once the victims or witnesses have had conversations with us and we have been able to explain to them the court process, by the end of our discussions often they are no longer reluctant, but rather accepting the information and showing willingness to move forward with the process.
Providing information: We are responsible for letting the victims or witnesses know the verdict. They can go to the court cases at the end, to hear the verdict themselves, and we always offer that as an option, but there are victims or witnesses who do not want to do that, so then it falls into our responsibility to inform them of the verdict. Not all court cases come back with the verdicts or the sentences that the victims or witnesses want. However, when the verdicts or the sentences are what the victims or witnesses wanted these are the most satisfying moments of our jobs.
Knowing that we have made a difference, not only on the verdict that’s been given by being able to encourage the victim or witness to go, but also in the victim’s life, supporting them throughout the process and getting them to a point where they felt comfortable going, that’s incredibly rewarding.
The guilty verdicts and the sentences make the victims or witnesses feel that justice has been served. We quite often have victims who do not want the defendant to go to prison, they want them to change and get better. You can hear the victim’s or witness’ sigh of relief in their voice when they know that the defendant is finally going to get the help that they need.
When did you start working for the Witness Care Unit?
I started working for the Unit 4 years ago. I had previously worked for the NHS so I had experience working with people. I found the Witness Care Officer role online, and as my degree background is in Psychology, I thought this would fit quite well. It also worked well with what I like, building rapport and communicating with a wide variety of people.
You originally started as a Witness Care Officer, and now you are a Witness Care Team Leader. Can you tell us more about this?
As a Witness Care Team Leader, I get to do everything that I enjoy as a Witness Care Officer, but I also get to look after a team and build a team as well. Because we are a team that sits in the middle of the Criminal Justice System, we liaise with numerous stakeholders, such as the Court, the CPS, the police, different agencies within the police, and people that we have never thought we would have correspondence with and this can also contribute to progression opportunities later on.
How big is your team and what are their backgrounds?
We are a team of about 21; including myself, another team leader, our Manager and 19 Witness Care Officers (WCOs). We are all Witness Care Officers, so we all do the same work, but are split into two slightly separate teams, one team looks after Magistrates cases, and the other looks after Crown Court cases. However, we collaborate and all help each other.
Our WCOs come from a variety of backgrounds, some from other areas of the Criminal Justice System, some have come from university, from Criminology, Sociology or Psychology backgrounds, some from a teaching background, and even someone from a hospitality background. The common denominator is the fact we have all worked with people.
We are a team-based unit, but we have to have the ability to work independently. 90% of our work is on the telephone and the rest of our work by emails or letters. We are a supportive team and we pride ourselves with this. We know if someone is having a bad call, and we are good at coming together during difficult times, and make sure that everybody is ok.
Do you provide training for your team?
After some initial E-learning including Health and Safety, much of our training is done through the Team leader and a buddy system. We have a guidance-training package, which each WCO needs to know. We do ongoing training in regards to communication, and we try to keep training up-to-date as much as possible.
What would you say to someone considering joining your team?
Definitely consider it! It is a positive and rewarding role, with elements of difficulty and challenge, but you have the support of a great team along the way. If you are organised, can prioritise and have the ability to work quickly it could be a great option for you – above all you have to be a people person, couple this with empathy, understanding and a non-judgemental approach and you have a perfect WCO.