Being a witness in court

If you are asked to go to court, do you have to go?

Yes, you must go even if you don’t want to. The letter that you get asking you to be a witness is from the court and so you have to do what they ask.

You are probably being asked to give evidence, because you have important evidence to give or because it will be in the interest of justice for you to do so. You do not have to give evidence in court but you should think carefully before saying no.

You can give evidence whatever age you are as long as you can understand the questions that you will be asked and can give answers that the judge and jury can understand.

What sort of help will you be given before you go to court to give evidence?

After you have been called to give evidence in court, you should hear from the Witness Service. The Witness Service will support you before you go to court to give evidence and also on the day of the trial. They can let you visit the court before the day of the trial so that you can see what it is like and learn more about what goes on there. They will explain what the judge, jury and lawyers do and where they sit.

On the day that you give evidence the Witness Service will meet you at the court and make sure that you have somewhere quiet to wait before you give evidence.

If you decide to visit the court before the day of the trial you should have the same Witness Services volunteer on the day of the trial to make you feel more comfortable. They will also go with you to the court room when it is time to give evidence and can go into court with you if you are alone.

You can also be given a child information pack. If you are going to court with a family member or friend the Witness Service can provide support for them too.

Do you have to go into the court room with the person that committed the crime?

Not in all cases. If the judge thinks that it will be too difficult for you to give evidence in the same room as the person accused of breaking the law, he or she might ask that a screen be put up in the court room so that you can’t see that person.

Where it is a case about violence, the court usually feels that you need special protection. In this case the judge will allow you to give evidence from a different room using a video link. You will sit in a room away from the court room; this might even mean a room in a different building. In this room there will be a TV screen with a small camera attached to it. If this happens, you will not be able to see the defendant, but the defendant and the judge and the lawyers will be able to see you on the video monitor. They will ask you questions via the TV link.

What will happen at court?

When you arrive at court on the day of the trial, you will be met by someone from the Witness Service; they will take you to a waiting room where you will wait until you are told to go into the court room or the live link room. It may be possible for you to wait in a room other than the court waiting room so that you feel less nervous. Don’t worry, the person accused of the crime will be in a different room and you won’t have to see them, unless you give evidence in the court room.

What will happen after you give evidence?

You can leave the court after you have given evidence. The judge will thank you for coming to court and giving evidence. A few weeks after the trial you should be told by the Witness Service or the police whether the person was found guilty and if so, what the judge and jury thought was the right punishment. They will explain the sentence and its effect. If you are a defence witness, the defence lawyer will tell you what happened in the trial.