The importance of courtroom volunteers

Several years ago a friend asked me to accompany her to court when her daughter was applying for an intervention order. Nobody quite knew what to expect that day and my friend’s apprehension only increased when she was became surrounded by busy barristers wearing jabots and wigs. While my friend’s daughter was in conference with her case worker and solicitor, we were basically hovering around in the foyer trying to stay calm and keeping a wary eye open for the daughter’s ex-husband who had turned “feral”. And while court rooms are designed to demand respect for authority, with the imposing judges’ bench and prisoner’s dock, the impact on us very nearly knocked us sideways.

I was shaking at the knees and in terms of being a supportive friend, I was starting to feel a fraud when we were approached by a calm woman who I guessed to be in her mid-60s. She wore a smart pants suit and her hair was done up in a bun. She initially described herself as a member of the voluntary court network but for my friend and myself, she quickly became an absolute, straight from heaven, guardian angel.

It transpired it was her job to diffuse any anxiety we may have and to answer any questions. First of all, my friend was nervous about Mr Feral showing up and becoming violent. The volunteer angel pointed out the security arrangements with which we were surrounded. But apart from being scared, my friend was embarrassed and ashamed. The ignominy of a court case was not supposed to happen to her family. But again, the volunteer angel told my friend that her situation was unfortunately very common.  All sorts of people, from all walks of life, will have their day in court.

As the morning’s procedures went on, the court networker remained by my friend’s side. Where did she come from so calm and intelligent and reassuring? I wondered. She was in fact a former teacher and like her colleagues in the volunteer court network she had been looking for some meaningful occupation during retirement.

She told me afterwards, that as volunteers, they train quite extensively and are well equipped to assist people going through the court system. Protocols may have changed in the years since we were in court, but nowadays, this free, confidential community service is provided by volunteers for all court users, including victims, witnesses, accused, family and friends. They are there to help explain decisions that affect all of the players in the system.

My friend’s daughter obtained an intervention order that day and fortunately her husband didn’t attend court. But while it was some years ago, it was a day none of us would forget in a hurry. Especially the services of the angel who made an unpredictable day so much more bearable.

Click here for further information for women and men on courtroom volunteering.

This article has been prepared for information purposes only and is not legal advice. For legal advice regarding your specific circumstances, please contact Workplace Resolutions directly on (03) 5499 6131 or by email at admin@wrhr.com.au

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