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Going to court – Your questions answered
These FAQ’s are intended as an overview of some potential questions that you may have before going to court. For any specific issues related to your case or investigation please do get in touch with us here
If you are to be called as a witness you will be contacted by a witness care officer who will let you know the time and venue. You will also receive information about the court you have been requested to attend through the post. They will do all they can to support you and find out if you need help to get to the court, or other practical help such as child care.
Witnesses are vital to the criminal justice system. Without witness evidence criminals would find it easier to avoid prosecution and continue their offending. If you are thinking of not going to court you should first speak to the officer who is investigating the offence or with your witness care officer. They will be able to help you overcome your worries and assist you at court.
If you are asked to attend court and you do not attend, or you tell the police or Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) that you are not going to attend, a witness summons can be issued to compel you to go to court. However, if there is a particular reason for you not wanting to go, you should tell the police or witness care officer to enable the prosecutor to deal with your issues.
Your witness care officer will do all that they can to help you; they are there to support you. You should discuss any problems with your witness care officer as soon as possible before the court case. You should allow them enough time to make necessary alternative arrangements where possible.
The prosecutor will decide whether to issue a witness summons to compel you to attend court or to ask the court for an adjournment, for the case to be heard at a later date. However, the court may not grant an adjournment. As a result, the case may have to be stopped.
Yes, the Witness Service run what is called a pre-court familiarisation visit. Your witness care officer will ask you if you want to visit the court beforehand and will ask the Witness Service to contact you to make arrangements. This service is free and independent of the police or courts.
Even if you do not want help before the trial, the Witness Service will be available to help you on the day.
Witness Service run a Young Witness service for witnesses 17 and under. They can arrange for an enhanced service to witnesses in addition to those offered to adults, including visits to their home to fully explain the court processes, and follow up contact to assess if there are any further needs of the witness (for example ongoing support).
No, you will not usually meet the prosecutor until you attend court. However, if you are a child or an adult who is vulnerable or intimidated, the prosecutor and the police may meet you at an earlier date to discuss your needs, the roles of the people involved in the trial, court procedures and special measures. If such a meeting is held the prosecutor will not be able to discuss your evidence or the case.
You should take the letter asking you to go to court and any other information you have been given about the hearing. If you are told to do so, you should bring any exhibits you still have, such as stolen property which may have been returned to you.
You will be sent a map highlighting where the court is located. Some courts do not have parking. Please allow time to find a place to leave your car and remember you may be staying several hours.
You might also like to take something to read or do. You may have to wait before it is your turn to give evidence. You may also need money to cover costs like car parking and refreshments.
Please also read the section about expenses.
Yes. If you like, you can take a friend or relative to keep you company while you wait to give evidence. Unless you are intending to call them as a witness they can sit in the public gallery and watch your trial. They won’t be able to claim expenses (such as travel costs) unless the court agrees; for example, to assist you if you are disabled or if you are aged under 17 years. Your witness care officer will be able to talk this through with you before the court date and make sure you know when a friend or relative can be with you.
You should find clear signs to help you find your way around. All cases are listed under the defendant’s name. Show the court security guard or usher your letter asking you to attend court. The usher will tell you where to wait. If you are not already in touch with the Witness Service, you can see them when you arrive. Ask the Witness Service if you want to have a look in the court room before your case starts or if you are worried about seeing the defendant’s friends or relatives. There may be a separate room where you can wait. You will have the opportunity to arrange all this prior to attending court with your witness care officer.
A representative from the Crown Prosecution Service will also introduce him/herself to you. They will give you a copy of your statement to read before you give evidence.
The courts aim to ensure that you do not have to wait more than two hours before giving evidence. However, some cases are delayed or even put off until another date. If this happens you will be told as soon as possible. If you have any questions about what is happening, you can ask a member of the Witness Service, Court Usher or CPS, who will provide as much information as possible. Sometimes a defendant pleads guilty on the day of the trial. This is not something the police or CPS can predict and if this happens you will not be needed to give evidence in court. Your written evidence is still needed though.
In most courts, if you need to wait, there are separate areas for defence and prosecution witnesses.
The prosecutor will seek to get you released from the court as soon as possible. You might still decide to stay to watch what happens but that is up to you. If you have an important reason to leave early, tell the person who asked you to come to court or their representative at court before the case starts. If you can’t find them tell the usher. It may be possible for you to give evidence before other witnesses, however, this cannot always be arranged. You should not leave unless you have been told you are no longer required.
If you leave the court building for any reason (for example, to pay for parking), tell the usher.
It is not unusual for people to feel anxious about giving evidence in court. Trained volunteers from the Witness Service appreciate this and will be at the court to help you. Other people who work at the court will also know that you may be nervous and will do what they can to make sure you are treated with respect and sensitivity.
If you are considered to be a vulnerable or intimidated witness, the prosecutor might have applied for you to have what are called special measures. These are adaptations the court can make to make you feel more at ease. If special measures are granted you will be told.
Dress smartly but comfortably. If you turn up in inappropriate clothing the court/jury may think you are not taking your case very seriously, although this will not affect the sentencing procedure.
A jury is a group of 12 members of the public whose job is to come to a decision of ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ based on the evidence and the statements from the victims and witnesses. A jury will only be present in Crown Court, High Court, County Court or the Coroner’s Court.
At each crown court there is an official who is responsible for summoning the jurors who are to take the case, which will alter on a two-week period.
The official will be responsible for arranging for the jurors’ names to be selected at random from the electoral register. This is an automatic process randomly done by the computer at a central office.
Some criminal court trials don’t go ahead as planned. Some, called ‘cracked’ cases, don’t go ahead on the intended date at very short notice but don’t need rescheduling – this might be because the defendant entered a guilty plea, or the prosecution drops the case. But other trials that don’t go ahead and do need rescheduling are called ‘ineffective’ – this might be because the prosecution or the defence aren’t ready to begin the trial, or the defendant doesn’t attend as instructed. Those cases that do go ahead are said to be ‘effective’.
Your barrister can’t give evidence for you or read out a statement of your evidence on your behalf. If you don’t attend your trial you will therefore be deprived the opportunity of giving evidence and potentially bringing your offender to justice.
If you are unable to attend because, for example, you are ill, a medical certificate is required that specifically states that you are not fit to attend court, why and for how long. If the court accepts you have a genuine reason for not attending court your trial will not go ahead in your absence but will be adjourned to a new trial date.
The prosecution case is always dealt with first.
In a number of ways, here are some examples:
- A witness may attend court to give live evidence.
- A witness’s evidence may be agreed and read to the court.
- CCTV or video evidence may be played to the court, for example footage of the incident.
- Audio evidence can be played to the court, for example a recording of the victim’s 999 call to the police.
- The offender’s police interview tape recording may be played to the court or a transcript of it read.
- Documents may be agreed and read to the Court.
- Admissions may be agreed between the offender/the offender’s barrister and the prosecutor and they are read to the court as facts agreed by both the prosecution and the defence.
For information about what happens at Court – please see our interactive court tool
Last modified 8th November 2016