East Lothian’s Labour MSP and MP renewed their backing for the retention of Haddington’s courts during Victims’ Week which ends on Friday, February 22.
Iain Gray MSP and Fiona O’Donnell MP met with Moira Lyon, one of the witness service volunteers at the court in Haddington to discuss the role she and her colleagues play helping witnesses to cope with appearing at court.
They also heard how much more difficult it would be for witnesses, especially vulnerable ones, to have to travel through to Edinburgh to testify if the Scottish Court Service pushes ahead with its plans to close Haddington Sheriff and the Justice of the Peace Court.
The support that Witness Service volunteers provide includes practical help, information on court procedures, a pre-trial familiarisation visit to the court, guidance about further support and a listening ear for the anxieties or concerns of witnesses.
Mr Gray said: “Meeting with Moira and learning more about her role was a timely reminder of what a disaster closing Haddington Sheriff and JP Court would be for local victims and witnesses. Travelling to Edinburgh to attend court would add extra stress and cost for witnesses and also increase the risk of some deciding not to come forward in the first place.
“Moira and her fellow volunteers provide an invaluable service for witnesses to ensure they get the advice and support they need. It’s absolutely essential that the needs of victims and witnesses are not forgotten in the criminal justice system, and that is why I am pleased to support Victims Week to help raise awareness about this issue.
“I have signed up to Victim Support Scotland’s six pledges and will continue to fight for justice to be carried out locally here in East Lothian in the best interests of the victims and witnesses of crime.”
Ms O’Donnell added:
“Volunteers like Moira do an incredible job supporting witnesses through what can be a stressful and often traumatic experience. The support they provide for children and young people, and other vulnerable witnesses, is particularly important and I commend them for the hard work they do.
“I have also been a witness myself and know what a harrowing experience it can be, so I am very pleased to sign up to Victim Support Scotland’s six pledges for victims and witnesses of crime and help highlight this year’s Victims Week.”
Ms Lyon said: “The Witness Service volunteers are always busy at Haddington Sheriff Court, with 34 needing support on one day recently. But it is a really rewarding role and we get great satisfaction from being able to make a difference to witnesses during what can be a very stressful experience.
“Victims Week is an important opportunity to raise awareness about this work and I really appreciate Iain and Fiona taking the time to discuss our role and pledging their support to victims and witnesses of crime. It is reassuring to know that we have the support of our MSP and MP here in East Lothian.”