If your child has witnessed a crime they will be expected to give evidence, and it will be presumed that they are competent to understand questions and give understandable replies. If they have to give evidence in court, then there are special measures available to put them at ease and help them communicate.
Ways to give evidence
If a crime has been reported and your child was a witness to it, they may feel scared about what will happen to them if they give evidence. It is important that your child realises the negative effects of all crime no matter how serious and that by giving information they will be making sure it does not happen again.
In many cases the information in your childs written or video-recorded statement may be sufficient and they will not have to appear in court at all. This is particularly true in cases where the defendant has pleaded guilty.
- Information for young people on reporting a crime (young people section)
Special measures for protecting the witness in court
Children under 17, vulnerable adult witnesses and those thatfeel intimidated are eligible for special measures.This means that the court will do what it can to put the witness at ease so they can give evidence without feeling intimidated, or in the case of witnesses with communication difficulties, will provide help to make them understood.
There are a variety of ways for an intimidated or vulnerable witness to give evidence. These include:
- screens around the witness box - a screen is placed around the witness box to prevent the witness from having to see the defendant
- evidence via live link - the witness can sit in a room outside the courtroom and give their evidence via a live television link to the courtroom
- video recorded evidence - the witness statement to the police is videotaped and played to the court
- removal of wigs and gowns - the judge and lawyers in the Crown Court do not wear gowns and wigs so that the court feels less formal
- evidence given in private - this is when members of the public are not allowed in the court room (for sexual offences and cases involving intimidation)
- use of communication aids (for example an alphabet board)
- examination through an intermediary - an intermediary is someone who can help a witness with a communication difficulty understand questions that they are being asked, and can make his or her answers understood by the court
Video evidence in court
In cases where the young witness under 17 has their statement video recorded,they are entitled to have this played in the Crown Court as their evidence, and to be examined and cross-examined by live link. In magistrates' courts, live links are also available but video recorded evidence can only be used in cases involving sexual or violent offences.
- Find out more about the Crown Court and the magistrates' court (crime, justice and the law section)
Most trials involving defendants between the age of 10 and 17 will take place in youth courts, which are a special type of magistrates court.Youth courts are not open to the public, and the magistrates and judges have special training for hearings involving children and young people.
- Information for young people on going to court (young people section)
Further information for young witnesses and their parents
You may be given a video called 'Giving Evidence what's it really like?' which is produced by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children(NSPCC) and ChildLine. This video aims to help children and young people feel more confident giving evidence, to understand their role in the court process and to encourage them to talk about their wishes, fears and concerns about going to court.
As each case is different you should ask the police officer, support worker or your legal representative any questions and queries you or your child may have. Young people aged 13 to19 can get confidential advice, support and information (including legal help) from theConnexions website.
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