Going to court as a witness
If you give evidence in court, you could stop innocent people from being convicted and help to make sure guilty people go to prison. As a witness, you're an important part of the justice system - without you, there may be no case.
Who can be a witness in court
You may be asked to be a witness if you:
- are a victim of crime
- know something about a particular crime (eg,you saw ittake place)
- haveexpert knowledge of a subject (called an 'expert witness')
- know one of the people involved in the case (called a 'character witness')
If you give a witness statement to the police, it may be some time before you knowif you'll need to go to court. This is because legal cases can take a long time to prepare. If the case does go to court and your evidence is needed, you will be contacted.
If you have any questions before then, you should contact the police officer in charge of the case.
Where and when you need to give evidencethe leaflet 'Witness in Court' will show you what to expect
Most cases are decided in a magistrates' court, by three magistrates or a district judge. Serious crimes get referred to Crown Court for a trial by jury.
Before the trial begins, you will be told which court you should go to and when. If you are a defence witness the defence lawyer will contact you. If you are a prosecution witnessesyou will get a 'witness protection letter' from the police or your local Witness Care Unit. Your witness care officer will see if you need any kind of help, with childcare or transport for example.
All witnesses should get a copy of the leaflet 'Witness in court' to help guide them through what to expect. The link is below.
- Help with PDF files
If you can't make the date of the trial
If you can't make the date of the trial, you should tell your witness care officer or the defence lawyer. You should do this right away, so that they can decide what to do.
Help and support for witnesses
When the times comes for the court hearing, you'll get help from an organisation called the Witness Service.
They offer support to:
- any witness giving evidence
- victims, their families and friends attending court
They can arrange for you to visit the court before the trial, or someone can come with you when it's time to give evidence.
Watch a step-by-step guide to being a witness
You can watch an online video that explains what happens, from making a statement, to going to court and after. It's called 'Going to Court - A Step-by-Step Guide to Being a Witness'.
The link is below. It's also available on DVD. Ask for a copy from your witness care officer, your defence lawyer or the Witness Service at any criminal court.
Help for vulnerable or intimidated witnesseshelp can include screens to stop you from having to see the defendants
You may be able to get extra help in court if you:
- are under 17
- or have a learning or physical disability
- or are a victim of a sexual offence
- or are afraid to give evidence
If the court agrees, the 'special measures' available are:
- screens so you don't have to see the defendent
- giving evidence from outside the court room using a live TV link
- having your main evidence video-recorded and played in court, so you don't have to talk about what happend too often
- the judge and lawyers in the Crown Court can take off their gowns and wigs
- for cases of sexual assualt and intimidation, the public can be asked to leave when you give evidence
- someone to help you understand the questions you are asked, or communication aids like alphabet boards, signs or gestures
If you feel you need extra help in this way, tell the police or the defence lawyer before you go to court.
Help after the trial
You may want help or information after the trial, like finding out the result of the case.
If you are a prosecution witness you should contact your witness care officer or any other support service that supported you through the process.
If you are a defence witness you should contact the defence lawyer who asked you to come to court.
Help is available for victims if the offender has been put in prison for more than a year for a sexual or violent offence. In these cases you have the right to be kept up to date on their sentence, like when they're about to be set free.
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