- CASS (Child Accompaniment Support Services) provides advocacy and support to child victims of sexual abuse and their families, whose prosecution case has gone to court.
- CASS aims to prepare the child and family on a practical level for court. We do this by familiarising them with the court rooms and buildings. Some courthouse buildings are quite big and old on the outside while others are modern. The CASS officer will bring the child and family to visit the courthouse before the trial date to have a look around and see what it looks like.
- As part of this familiarisation the trial procedure is also explained. This is done with a view to making the experience less daunting to the victim.
- The Court Accompaniment Officer provides help to children to prepare for court. This is done by explaining the court procedure with the aid of age appropriate literature as well as clarifying legal terminology for the family.
- The officer will accompany the child and their family to the court in advance of the trial date with a view to familiarising them with the court environment and the video link.
- Going to court can be frightening for a child, providing a pre-trial visit to the video link room can reduce the child’s anxiety and fear when giving evidence.
- The officer will also attend court with the child and their family with a view to providing emotional support both during and after the court proceedings.
- The CASS officer remains in contact with both the family and any professionals, such as social workers or Gardaí, directly involved in the case for the duration of the trial and sentencing.
A witness is someone who tells the court about something that has happened. Being a witness means telling the court the truth about what you know or what you saw. This is called ‘giving evidence’. You may have to sit in a waiting room for a long time before it’s your turn to be a witness, but members of your family and the court accompaniment officer can wait with you so you’re not alone.
This is a national service for any child who resides within the Republic of Ireland who has to attend court to give witness testimony in a criminal case.
We provide Court Accompaniment for any criminal cases where there is a child providing witness testimony. The service does not extend to family court or access/custody cases.
The Court Accompaniment Officer comes from a counselling background.
- A child going through the court system can feel very overwhelmed and unsure of what will happen to them.
- The court accompaniment officer will stay with the child and family in a room made available by the court whilst they wait to give evidence.
- A testimony can be given via video link if this facility is available.
- The child may be asked questions about their statement previously given to the Gardaí.
- Telling the truth is the most important thing a witness can do.
- When you answer a question, make sure you say what happened, and try not to leave anything out.
- If the child feels stuck or unsure they can put their hand up and ask a question or ask for help from the judge.
- When the child is finished giving their testimony they can leave the courtroom and wait in a separate room in the court building.
- When a child is giving evidence through video link they are accompanied by a member of staff from the courts service. This is the only person who is allowed in the room when a child is giving evidence.
- When this is happening parents/caregivers are free to sit in the courtroom or outside the video link room until the child witness is finished giving their evidence.
During a trial the accused will be present in court alongside their legal counsel; they may also have supportive representatives present (family or friends). However, in some courthouses there is a witness suite that is cut off from the public. Child witnesses and their families may avail of this space if they wish; this is something the Court Accompaniment Officer can arrange where possible. This is something that you can also enquire about with your legal counsel.
- During the trial the accused will be in the courtroom. They will be able to see the child via video link while the child is giving evidence, although the child will not be able to see them. This set up of video link allows for the accused and the child witness to give evidence without having to be physically in the same room.
- In cases where the witness is giving evidence in the courtroom (not video link) the accused will be present for that witness testimony.
Anyone who is directly involved in the case will be present in the courtroom. Typically there will be a judge, barrister, solicitors, and members of the Gardaí.
- Open court means that witness’s testimonies and arguments made from both sides of the legal team are made in public. Members of the public and media are permitted to enter the court that day.
- ”In camera” means that due to the sensitive nature or interest in the case, general public and press are not permitted into the court. Only those directly involved and close family are permitted access to court. This is something that you can enquire about regarding this matter.
All cases are individual and it is the role of the judge to examine the individual components of each case when he/she is deliberating the sentence.
- The Victim Impact Statement is a written or oral statement which is presented at sentencing. It explains the impact that the crime has had on the victim and their family. Victim Impact Statements are used to highlight the human cost of a crime; this can include the physical, emotional and psychological bearing that the crime has had on the victim.
- Victim Impact Statements are not mandatory.
The Victim Impact Statement can be read out by the child themselves or if they are under the age of 14 years old, by a family member or the barrister.
When a trial is in open court the press are free to sit in on the proceedings however, when a trial is held “in-camera” no member of the public (which includes the media) are permitted entry to the court this is done to ensure that no details of the case are reported in the media. Any worries or concerns that you have regarding this can be discussed with your legal counsel.
If the accused is found not guilty, then in the eyes of the law they are innocent and are free to leave the court.
Yes they can appeal their case, if they have been given a prison sentence they would usually remain in prison until the appeal is heard.
CASS understands the dynamics that happen within a family as they go through the trial process. Families having to relive a lot of the crime are sometimes left to manage these emotions long after the trial has finished. As part of CASS’s after care assistance we would be available to suggest suitable services that might help the child and family in dealing with these issues.
This service is free of charge; however donations to the CARI Foundation are always welcome. This can be done by going into the fundraising section of our website.
CASS is supported by the Commission for Support of the Victims of Crime.