2 – Attending a judicial act

2.1 – Contact with victim or witness

Even if the victim support worker had the opportunity to prepare the victim, on the day of the judicial act one should speak to the victim alone before the act. This moment will allow understanding how the victim feels and give him/her the opportunity of asking questions about what will happen.

At that moment, the victim may also share information with the support worker that he/she has not before. If the victim provides information that is important for the judicial act or for criminal proceedings, the victim support worker should provide said information to the competent authority – before or after the act, depending on the urgency of the matter, namely the way in which it may influence the act, as well as the victim’s needs. 

During waiting time, the support worker should also keep a casual conversation with the victim or witness – about superficial topics such as the weather, a recent football match or other themes the support worker knows the victim likes – in order to distract the victim from thinking about the judicial act and reduce his or her anxiety.

In case of accompaniment of a child, the victim support worker should take along with him or her materials that can be used during waiting time (e.g.: books to colour). The intention is to distract the child from the judicial act and reduce the anxiety they may feel due to any delay. Some courts already have a room prepared for this effect, therefore the support worker should ask the court staff if such a waiting room exists. In case of a positive answer, they should stay there with the victim.

2.2 – In case it was not possible to contact the victim and prepare them before the date of the judicial act

No dia da diligência, caso não tenha havido contacto prévio e preparação, o TAV deverá comunicar com a autoridade que tiver solicitado o acompanhamento para que seja disponibilizada uma sala na qual o/a TAV possa falar a sós com a vítima.

Esta conversa servirá para preparar a vítima para a diligência nos termos atrás expostos, embora de uma forma necessariamente muito abreviada.

2.3 – Alguns aspetos práticos no dia da diligência

O/A TAV deve:

  • Conhecer e estar confortável no local onde irá decorrer a diligência:

Para estar confortável no local, orientar-se e saber onde irá decorrer a diligência, é conveniente que o/a TAV visite o local antes do dia da diligência. Esta visita pode ter lugar na parte prática da formação especializada (ao observar outro/a TAV no acompanhamento de vítimas), mas também em qualquer momento por sua iniciativa. É importante saber que qualquer cidadão pode visitar as instalações do tribunal e até assistir a julgamentos (com exceção dos que decorrem sem a presença de público). Conhecer o local e estar confortável é importante para tranquilizar a vítima e para lhe poder descrever o espaço em que decorrerá a diligência.

Se o/a TAV não tiver a possibilidade de visitar o local antes da diligência, deve chegar mais cedo às instalações e familiarizar-se, apurando onde se encontram a sala de audiências, a sala de espera, as casas de banho e a secretaria. 

  • Confirmar que estão verificadas todas as condições necessárias para a segurança da vítima:

O/A TAV deverá confirmar que estão reunidas todas as condições necessárias para a segurança da vítima antes da diligência (contactando previamente o/a oficial de justiça, por exemplo) ou no dia da própria diligência. As condições necessárias para a segurança da vítima podem incluir não se encontrar com o arguido na sala de espera ou entrar e sair das instalações por uma porta alternativa.

  • Communicate with judicial practitioners, lawyers, court staff, police officers, defendants, relatives of the victim or of the defendant and any other person accompanying the victim:

Good communication with judicial authorities, lawyers, court staff and police officers is essential to promote the well-being and safety of the victim. 

In case this was not done before, this may be the moment for the victim support worker to check with the authority presiding the act what the extent and the limits of their intervention as support workers shall be. Namely, if they are allowed to ask for a break in case they feel the victim needs it, and if the authority wants their collaboration in phrasing some of the questions to the victim. 

On the other hand, in communicating with the defendant, their family or with the family of the victim or people accompanying her, the victim support worker should try to ensure a calm environment. They should be available to clarify the doubts of people close to the victim and to the role of de-escalating any tension that may rise. 

  • To protect themselves and the victim from any threats on the part of the defendant or people close to them: 

The victim and/or the victim support worker accompanying may be threatened or intimidated by the defendant or people close to them. It is important to prepare for this possibility, which can be based on the knowledge the victim has of the defendant’s or their close family/friends’ personality or usual behaviour. This may help foresee the degree of probability that an intimidation or violent act will be committed.

In these cases, besides trying to avoid contacts between the victim and the defendant or those close to him in the physical space where the judicial act will take place, the victim support worker and the victim should refrain from responding to any instigation or threat, avoid physical and verbal confrontation and immediately inform the court staff and/or police officers on site.

  • Information and practical advice to give to the victim:

The victim support worker shall advise the victim to arrive a little earlier – considering that security check procedures may be lengthy, especially in courts of bigger dimensions – and to ask for the exact place they should go to within it.

They should also explain that, as a witness, they can only enter the court room when it is their turn to be heard. In case of trial, after they are heard they may stay in the court room for the remaining of the session.

The victim should also be informed that, sometimes, the act may start after the scheduled time, either because not all participants have arrived yet, or because the previous hearing is delayed. In any case, there is nothing that can be done aside from waiting. It is a good idea to take along something to help pass the time – a book, a newspaper, play materials in case of children, etc.

The victim support worker knows how to deal with the frustration of the victim, that may be increased due to the waiting time. Particularly within trial sessions, some victims feel very frustrated because the defendant may be heard for a long time by the judge, keeping them waiting. It is up to the victim support worker to explain to the victim that the defendant also has their rights in the proceedings, and that these do not collide with those of the victim. They should also reassure the victim that they will have the opportunity to tell the most important facts.

The victim support worker shall recall the victim that, in case they feel unwell or uncomfortable (physically or emotionally), they should not be afraid to say so and ask for a break, if they feel that is needed.

2.4 – Good practices during and immediately after the judicial act

  • The victim support worker should seat the closest possible to the victim or witness, following the instructions of the authority presiding the act;
  • If this as been agreed upon with the authority presiding the act prior to the session, the victim support worker should request a break when they see that the victim is in a state of distress, anxiety or suffering that so justifies; 
  • The victim support worker should also be ready to answer positively to any requests that may be made to them by the authority presiding the act, namely that they support in posing or clarifying questions to the victim or witness, particularly if they are children. This possibility should, if possible, be agreed upon prior to the act. In order to ensure this happens, it is important to build a relationship of trust with the judicial authorities and justice officials. If necessary, the victim support worker should contact the court and ask to speak to the public prosecutor or the judge, and define the limits of their own intervention and/or give information about the needs of the victim. But even if this did not occur, the victim support worker should be ready to accept the request.
  • The victim support worker should know where and how to request certificates of presence and reimbursement of expenses.
  • At the end of the act, the victim support worker should be ready to answer to questions the victim or witness may have about how the judicial act went and explain the nest stages of the proceedings. 
  • They should reinforce the courage and strength the victim showed and give them the opportunity to share with them how they feel.
  • The victim support worker should work with the victim or witness (and in some cases with people that accompany them) on the strategies to deal with potential vulnerabilities deriving from the participation in the act, in terms of safety and of emotional well-being. In relation to the victim support worker themselves, they should only give very general feedback about the way the act was performed, without many details. However, sometimes parents/legal guardians may be persistent, trying to know what the child answered. In such cases, the victim support worker should explain that it is up to the child to decide if they want to share what they said or not. It should also be explained to the parents/legal guardians that, if the child does not want to speak about it, their decision needs to be respected and they should not be pressured to speak as this would be counterproductive to their recovery process.