You may be asked to give evidence in court if you are a victim or a witness of a crime. Giving evidence in court is a crucial part of the justice system.
If it is necessary for you to give evidence in court you will receive formal notice from the prosecution or defence (which ever has called you as a witness), a witness care officer, or lawyer informing you if you are required to attend.
Arriving at Court
On arrival at Court you should attend the reception desk and notify them of your arrival. They will then arrange for you to be met by someone from the Witness Service and/or someone from the prosecution or defence.
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 attend Court with you on the day of the trial.
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 will not have to meet the defendant or their family and friends before the trial.
If there is not a separate area, the court can take other steps to make sure you are safe.
If you are a defence witness the court will try to ensure you wait separately from other people in the case if required.
It is against the law to intimidate a witness; this may include threatening or bullying a witness. If anyone tries to intimidate you, tell your solicitor or a court official who will report it to the police.
During the trial there may be other witnesses or evidence that has to be put before the Court before you are required. You will probably have to wait until you are called as a witness. You will not be allowed into the court room to observe the trial until you have given your evidence.
When you are called, the court usher will collect you and take you into the court room.
The Court Usher will show you to the witness box where you will be asked to swear an oath or affirm.
You should stand up, but if you find standing difficult, you can ask the magistrate or the judge if you can sit down
Order of events when giving evidence:
Your initial evidence (known as evidence in chief)
When you first go into the witness box and take the oath or affirmation, the questioning will be conducted by the lawyer for the party calling you as a witness.
The Lawyer will first ask you to identify yourself by giving your full name and possibly your occupation. The Lawyer will then start questioning and may ask you to give your version of events.
When the Lawyer has completed questioning, you should remain in the witness box as questions (including leading questions) by the Lawyers for all the other parties in the proceedings may be asked of you
After the cross-examination has been completed, the Lawyer who asked the initial questions may ask further questions arising out of the cross-examination. However, they are not allowed to introduce new points.
Questioning by court
At any stage the magistrates or judge may wish to ask questions.
At any time you do not understand the question or you are unsure about an answer, advise the Court straight away. Ask for a 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.
Completion of evidence
After you have finished giving your evidence you might be asked to wait to ensure there are no more matters that you can assist the Court with. Do not leave the Court until you are officially “released”. If there are no more questions you will be allowed to leave the Court room or you may stay and listen to the rest of the case.
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
• afraid to give evidence
• a victim of a sexual offence
Special measures could include:
• screens around the witness box - to prevent you from having to see the defendant
• evidence using a live link - you can sit in a room outside the courtroom and give evidence using a live television link to the courtroom
• video recorded evidence - your 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 this so the court feels less formal
• evidence given in private - members of the public are not allowed in the court room (for sexual offences and cases involving intimidation)
• use of communication aids (for example a writing board)
• examination through an ‘intermediary’ - who will help you understand questions that you are asked, and help the court understand your answers
If you think you need special protection or feel that giving evidence like this would help you then you should speak to the case officer, witness care officer or the solicitor who asked you to attend court.