Know the score before you go to court.
Identifying an offender
If you have witnessed a crime you may be asked to attend a police station so officers can take a statement. If the offence has just happened, the officers may ask you to tour the nearby area with them to try to identify the offender, or you may be asked to look at photos to try to pick them out. If you are asked to help as a witness at an identification parade, many stations have special rooms available with secure, one-way screens through which you can view the identity parade in complete privacy.
Going to court Before the court date
Officers will give you a copy of the Home Office "Witness in Court" leaflet which tells you what to expect. The Crown Prosecution Service will deal with any expenses for your loss of earnings, etc. You should let the police Witness Liaison Officer know as soon as possible.
Most cases are dealt with at the magistrates' court and if the defendant pleads guilty you will not be required to give evidence. More serious cases are sent to the Crown Court where the case may be heard in front of a jury if the defendant denies the offence.
There may be other court hearings before the trial, but you do not have to attend these. You will only have to give your evidence once (except where there is more than one trial for the case, or if there is an appeal against the conviction).
If the defendant pleads guilty before trial you will not have to give evidence in court, however in rare cases where there is disagreement on details of the offence between the prosecution and the accused you may have to:
- If there are any dates when you are not available to attend court, for example, if you have booked a holiday. Where possible, these dates will be avoided;
- If you feel uncomfortable about sitting outside the court, if possible the officers will try to provide a quiet area for you to wait away from the main courtroom;
- If you have difficulty speaking or understanding English an interpreter will be provided for you;
- If you have a disability or other special needs;
- If you would like to visit the court on a day before the trial starts.
You could qualify for special measures (e.g. screens or TV link) in court if:
- You are 16 or under at the time of the hearing;
- If the quality of your evidence may suffer due to fear or distress;
- If the quality of your evidence may suffer because you have a mental or physical disorder or disability.
What should I take with me?
- The letter asking you to come to court.
- If asked, any exhibits of the crime e.g. stolen goods that have been returned to you.
- Something to read or do: you may be waiting around for a while .
- Cash to cover refreshments.
- A mate/ relative to keep you company.
It is a criminal offence to scare or frighten the witness, juror, or anyone helping the police in an investigation. If you are harassed or threatened in any way before, during or after the trial tell the police or the Crown Prosecution Service.
Where can I get support?
Victim Support's Witness Service offers information and support to any witness who needs it, in every criminal court in England and Wales. The Witness Service can also help victims and the families of witnesses and victims in court. The Witness Service can offer:
- Someone to talk to in confidence;
- A visit to the court and where possible, a look round a court room before you are called as a witness;
- Information on court procedures;
- A quiet place to wait before and during the hearing;
- Someone to accompany you into the court room when giving evidence;
- Practical help, for example, with expense forms.
- To put you in touch with people who can answer specificquestions about the case (the Witness Service cannot discuss evidenceor offer legal advice).
- A chance to talk over the case when it has ended and to get more help or information.
The number for your local Witness Service can be found in your local phone book.
Read the comment policy
Use our free question and answer service and speak to an expert!