What happens before you go to court?

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.

Holidays

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 problem.

Health problems

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 heard instead.

Other problems

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 (www.cjsonline.gov.uk).

You should also contact the Witness Service if you think you may need:

  • personal support;
  • someone to go with you into the courtroom; or
  • information about what happens at court.

Intimidation

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 hearing.

Special measures in court for witnesses who are vulnerable or intimidated

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 witness’ if:

  • 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 disorder.

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?

Screens

A screen is placed around the witness box so that the witness cannot see the defendant.

Live link

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 press.

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.

Video-recorded evidence-in-chief

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 cross-examination).

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.

Intermediary

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.

Who's in the court room?

Going to court