If you are a prosecution witness, you will normally receive a
‘witness warning’ letter from the police or from a Witness Care
Unit.This tells you when and where you need to go to court to give
evidence.You will probably not be given more than about two weeks’
notice of the date of the trial. A lawyer should be able to let you
know that your case will be heard this week or next week, but often
no one knows the exact starting day until the afternoon before.
If you are a defence witness, the defence lawyer should contact
you to let you know when to go to court.
When the police or the defence lawyer took your statement, they
will have asked you when you are available to go to court.The court
will do all it can to set a trial date that is convenient to
everybody involved in the case. But witnesses also need to do
everything possible to rearrange anything that could clash with
them giving evidence.
Time off work
If you need to take time off work, you should show your employer
your witness warning letter as proof that you have to go
to court.Your employer does not have to pay you for time off
work when you appear as a witness. But if you do lose pay, you can
claim a witness allowance for loss of earnings.The loss-of-earnings
payment may be less than your actual loss of earnings.
You are expected to go to court even if the date clashes with
your holiday plans.You could try to rearrange your holiday.
Remember that late cancellation can mean you lose money.Your
holiday insurance may not cover you if you had been told that
booking a holiday before the trial or hearing was over could be a
If you are too ill to go to court on the day you have been
called to give evidence, contact the clerk of the court or the
lawyer who asked you to give evidence and explain.
You should ask your GP for a medical certificate and send it to
the person who asked you to come to court. If you get the
certificate on the day of the trial, you could call the court and
then send or fax the form as soon as possible.
If your illness seems likely to last for a few days or longer,
contact the prosecution or defence lawyer and ask what other
arrangements they can make for your evidence to be heard in court.
For example, the court may agree that your earlier statement can be
If there are any other reasons which mean that you cannot go to
court, you should contact the court as soon as you can.
What you need to do
The person who asks you to come to court should send you
information about how to get to the court and the facilities it
has. Crown Court centres also have a Customer Service Officer who
you can ask about facilities.You can find the number of the court
in the phone book under ‘Crown Court’. The Witness Service can also
help you with this information.
You should tell the person who asked you to come to court if any
of the following apply to you.
- You have a disability or other special needs which means you
will need help in getting to the court or moving about in the court
building. Courts are covered by the conditions of the Disability
Discrimination Act 1995, and must make reasonable adjustments.
- You think you will need an interpreter.
- You would like to visit the court before the trial starts.You
can also arrange this with the Witness Service or the Crown Court’s
Customer Service Officer. Or, you can go on-line for a ‘virtual’
witness walk-through at the Criminal Justice System website
You should also contact the Witness Service if you think you may
- personal support;
- someone to go with you into the courtroom; or
- information about what happens at court.
It is a criminal offence to intimidate (frighten) a 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, you should immediately tell the police or the representative
of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or other prosecuting
authority at the court. If you are a defence witness, you should
tell the defendant’s lawyer or their representative at the court.
If you are not sure who to tell at court, tell the court usher.
If you are worried about meeting the defendant, other witnesses,
their friends or relatives, or anyone else involved in the hearing
or trial, tell the Witness Service, the police, someone who works
in the court or the lawyer who has called you as a witness.There
should be a separate room where you can wait before and during the
Special measures in court for witnesses who are vulnerable or
Some people can find the process of giving evidence in court
particularly ifficult or daunting and may need extra help.There may
be a number of reasons for this, such as their age, they might feel
frightened or confused about the court process, or they may have
seen something that really shocked or frightened them. Special
measures are available to help these people (described as
‘vulnerable or intimidated witnesses’) give their evidence in the
best way possible.
Do you qualify for special measures?
You may be eligible for special measures as a ‘vulnerable
- you are under 17 at the time of the court hearing; or
- the court thinks that you might need extra help giving your
evidence because you:
- suffer from a mental disorder;
- otherwise have a significant impairment of intelligence and
social functioning; or
- have a physical disability or are suffering from a physical
You may be eligible for special measures as an ‘intimidated
witness’ if your evidence is likely to suffer because you are
afraid or distressed at giving evidence in the proceedings.
The court will decide if you qualify for special measures.They
will get advice from the police, the Crown Prosecution Service or
the defence lawyer, and take account of your views on whether you
want special measures.
What are the special measures?
A screen is placed around the witness box so that the witness
cannot see the defendant.
The witness sits in a room away from the courtroom where the
case is being tried and gives evidence through a live TV link.The
witness can see the judge, magistrates or district judge and
lawyers, and people in the courtroom can see the witness.
Evidence in private
The public gallery is cleared except for one member of the
Removal of wigs and gowns
The judge and lawyers do not wear the formal black robes (gowns)
and wigs that they usually wear in the Crown Court.
Before the trial, the witness is recorded on video anwering
questions asked by a police officer.The video is played at trial as
the witness’s evidence-in-chief (main spoken evidence before
Aids to communication
Child witnesses under 17 or adult witnesses who are vulnerable
because of their physical, mental or learning disability or
disorder are allowed to use a communication aid (for example, an
alphabet board) to help give their evidence in court.
An approved independent intermediary can help child witnesses
under 17, or adult witnesses who are vulnerable because of their
physical, mental or learning disability or disorder, to communicate
with legal representatives and the court.