Most people won’t see the inside of a court room in their lifetime but a small percentage will be summoned to give evidence as a victim or witness of crime. There is lots of support for people giving evidence as their testimony often makes the difference between a conviction and an acquittal.
Reporting a crime
If you decide to report a crime to the police, an officer will take a statement from you and let you know if you might have to attend court. You may also have the opportunity to make a Victim Personal Statement to explain the physical, emotional or financial impact of the crime on you.
If a defendant is charged the police will pass your details to a Witness Care Unit and an officer will be allocated to your case. They update you on the progress of the case within one day of each hearing, even if you don’t have to attend court. They can also help with any extra help you may need to attend like childcare or transport.
If you are a victim or witness of crime the police will ask if you would like to be contacted by Victim Support. Victim Support is an independent charity which offers support to victims of crime and their families. Trained volunteers can visit you at home and provide links to specialist organisations or will help you at the court through the Witness Service.
The Witness Service is based in all Magistrates and Crown Court buildings in England and Wales. The service supports victims and witnesses at court while they wait to give evidence. It also offers other support such as visits to court prior to the trial to see where you will be giving evidence and find out about court procedures.
Some victims and witnesses are considered to be more vulnerable than others. These include children under 17 and some victims of serious offences such as child abuse or rape. There are a number of special measures to protect these people as they give evidence in court. These include giving evidence by video link or from behind a screen.
Prosecution and defence witnesses have separate waiting rooms in the court and you can ask for a volunteer from the Witness Service to wait with you.
When the court is ready you will be led to the witness box and asked to swear an oath which can be religious or non-religious.
If you are a victim or prosecution witness, the prosecution lawyers will question you first, followed by the defence.
What Happens Next?
When you have given evidence you can leave the court or stay to listen to the rest of the case. The Judge, Jury or Magistrates will decide on the verdict once all the evidence has been heard and the lawyers have presented a summary of their arguments. Sentencing is sometimes decided on the same day but can be adjourned until a later date.
The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime
The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime was launched by the Home Office in 2006 and sets out the standards that individuals can expect to receive from all the agencies involved in criminal justice. It explains what services are on offer to you, what treatment you can expect and how to complain if you feel you have been mistreated.