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Tuesday, 2 October 2023

Going to court as a victim or witness

Giving evidence in court as a victim or witness is an important part of the justice system. Find out what to do when you go to court, how trials work and what support is available.

Getting help going to court

Watch a video about going to court as a witness

If you are a victim or witness of a crime, you might be asked to give evidence in court.

You will get a letter from the police, a witness care officer or lawyer telling you if you have to go to court.

If you are a victim or prosecution witness, the witness care officer will see if you need any help on the day of the trial. For example, this could be with child care or help with transport.

You should also be given a copy of a leaflet on going to court as a witness. You can download a copy using the court finder, below, and find out information about the court including contact details, facilities and maps.

Help and support for victims and witnesses in the court

A witness care officer or the lawyer who asked you to attend court can put you in touch with the Witness Service.

The Witness Service is based at the court, and helps:

  • any witnesses giving evidence
  • victims and their families and friends attending court

The Witness Service can arrange for someone to go with you to offer personal support on the day of the trial.

If you have any concerns about the trial, speak to your witness care officer or someone from the Witness Service at your local court.

Arriving at court

Get to court at least 30 minutes before the trial starts

You should make sure you arrive at the court least 30 minutes before the trial is due to start. You have to go through a security check and then go to the reception desk. Give the receptionist the letter you got asking you to come to court.

You will usually be met by someone from the Witness Service and someone from the prosecution or defence.

Waiting rooms and seating arrangements

If you are a victim or prosecution witness there should be a separate room where you can wait in court. This means you won’t have to meet the defendant or their family and friends before the trial.

If there isn't a separate area, the court can take other steps to make sure you are safe.

If you're a defence witness the court will try to ensure you wait separately from other people in the case, if that's what you want.

It’s against the law to intimidate (threaten or bully) a witness. If anyone tries to intimidate you, tell your solicitor or a court official, who will report it to the police.

You will have to wait until you are called as a witness. When you are needed, the court usher will collect you and take you into the court room.

Giving evidence

You will be taken into the witness box in the court room. You will then be asked to swear to tell the truth. You can swear on a holy book, such as the Bible, or you can ‘affirm’ (promise to tell the truth).

The defence lawyer and the prosecution lawyer will ask you questions about your version of events to make sure the facts are correct.

Tell the court if you don’t understand the question or you’re unsure about an answer. Ask for the question to be repeated if you find it hard to hear the lawyer.

When you answer:

  • take your time
  • speak clearly
  • try not to leave anything out

If you need extra help giving evidence, the court can provide an ‘intermediary’. This is someone who will explain the questions put to you in court and who will help you to respond.

If the court needs you to stay on after you finished giving evidence, they’ll let you know.

Special protection for vulnerable or intimidated witnesses

The court may be able to take special steps to protect vulnerable and intimidated witnesses in the courtroom, for example if you are:

  • under 18
  • disabled
  • afraid to give evidence
  • a victim of a sexual offence

Special measures could include:

  • screens to stop you from having to see the defendant
  • giving evidence via a live TV link
  • asking the public to leave the courtroom when you give evidence, if it’s a case involving a sexual offence

If you think you need special protection, speak to the police officer, witness care officer or the solicitor who asked you to come to court.

After you give evidence

When you have finished giving evidence, sometimes you might be asked to wait. If there are no more questions you will be allowed to leave. This means you can go home or, if you like, stay and listen to the rest of the case.

You may be entitled to claim for the cost of having to come to court. Ask your solicitor or a court official for a form.

Claiming back the cost of going to court

You may be able to claim for the cost of having to come to court. Ask your solicitor or a court official for a form.

Finding out about the result of the trial

If someone is found guilty of the crime, they will be given a sentence by a court.

If you are a victim or a prosecution witness, your witness care officer should:

  • tell you about the outcome within one day of the court’s decision
  • explain to you anything you don’t understand

If you are a defence witness, the person who asked you to come to court should tell you the result of the trial.

Use the link ‘Being sentenced by a court - an overview’ to find out more about what different punishments someone could receive.

Additional links

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