Volunteering in the courts is “life-changing”

Ralph has been a volunteer with Victim Support Scotland for two years, supporting witnesses in the Sheriff Court and the High Court as they get to know the court building and go through the process of giving evidence.

5 June, 2019

Why I started volunteering with Victim Support Scotland
When I retired three years ago, I found I had time to do something different and was looking for an interesting opportunity.  I had previously found the legal system fascinating and had visited the courts before to understand how they worked.  My wife was already a volunteer with Victim Support Scotland at the Sheriff Court, so I learned more about the process from her.

My role as a volunteer
I volunteer two days a week, one day at the Sheriff Court and one day at the High Court. Having worked in a technical role in IT, moving to a people-facing role with Victim Support Scotland is very different – I really enjoy it.  Appearing in court can be highly pressured and before doing this role, I wasn’t aware of how anxious witnesses can become.  If my support can help relieve some of that anxiety, I’ve done a good job.

Gaining the skills to support people
Once I was accepted by Victim Support Scotland, like all volunteers, I followed a comprehensive three-day training programme, then shadowed a more experienced volunteer to gain more insight into the role. As well as learning about court processes and the criminal justice system, I have developed strong skills in supporting people.  Working with witnesses in stressful situations requires a calm manner, excellent listening skills and the ability to empathise without being patronising.

The most challenging thing about volunteering
Volunteering at the High Court means that I support victims and witnesses in some serious cases.  It can be hard accompanying people as they relive terrible experiences while giving evidence.  But in these stressful situations, I know that my silent support is all the more important to enable witnesses to give their evidence as calmly and clearly as possible.

Volunteers make a real difference
It’s satisfying to know I am truly helping people.  I accompanied someone giving evidence at the High Court recently. She was genuinely grateful for my support, even crying tears of thanks.  It’s a good feeling to go home knowing that I’ve supported someone, reduced their anxiety and made a real difference to their life that day.

Why people should volunteer with Victim Support Scotland
I would say, “Go for it!” If you have an interest in the criminal justice system or simply want to give something back to your community, volunteering with Victim Support Scotland is so worthwhile. I’ve found the experience rewarding, interesting and varied, with no two days the same.  I have not regretted it for a moment, so read up about the different volunteering opportunities and get in touch with Victim Support Scotland.  It’s life-changing!