Witnesses, Court and Young People
Being a Witness
The Witness Charter has been developed to tell people how they can expect to be treated by the police if they are a witness to a crime or incident. It also covers subsequent standards of care provided by other criminal justice agencies and lawyers if witnesses are asked to give evidence for the prosecution or defence in a criminal court. The Charter sets out what help and support each witness can expect to receive at every stage of the process from all the agencies and lawyers involved, although the Witness Charter does not cover the role of judges and magistrates.
All witnesses need to know what services they should expect from the criminal justice agencies. The agencies themselves need to be clear about what standards they are required to meet in delivering those services. If this does not happen then it is likely that witnesses will not receive the level of care they need, and will therefore feel disillusioned and dissatisfied with the Criminal Justice System.
The standards of service set out in the Witness Charter apply to all witnesses, regardless of whether they are also the victim of the crime. If the witness is also the victim, they have rights which are set out in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime.
Going to court to give evidence can be a stressful time for victims and witnesses. We hope this brief outline of what to expect on the day of the trial will help to set your mind at rest.
On arrival you should make yourself known to the usher who will be seated just inside the court foyer. The usher will then contact the Witness Service who will come and collect you and take you to their witness waiting area.
A representative of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will then hand you a copy of your statement so that you can refresh your memory. This will be a prosecutor in Magistrates' Court trials and a Paralegal Officer or a barrister in Crown Court trials. The barrister may well be wearing a robe but will only wear a wig in the courtroom. Wigs and gowns are an historic practice within the Crown Court and never worn in a Magistrates' Court.
There may be some waiting time for you because legal discussions often take place before trials start. This isn't unusual or anything to worry about. When your name is called, you will be escorted by the Witness Service to the courtroom. First, you will have to take an oath declaring that you will tell the truth. Next, you will be taken through your statement by the prosecution lawyer, and then the defence lawyer may challenge some points in your evidence. The judge or magistrates will ensure that you don't have to answer any unfair questions.
When you have been told by either the magistrates or the judge that you can leave the court, you are free to do so. It may not always be possible for the prosecutor or barrister to come and see you after you have given evidence, because if there are other witnesses involved , the trial must continue. If you are interested, you may go and sit in the public gallery and watch the remainder of the trial ( trials with adult defendants only).
There are many young people who attend Court as witnesses but this can be a daunting prospect, especially if it is for the first time. Equally it can be an anxious time for the family or carers of young people in this situation.
To assist people in this position, there are procedures in place to offer guidance, advice and support to help young people feel more confident about giving evidence in court.
Special Measures may be available for young people, children (and other vulnerable or intimidated witnesses). These include:
- Giving evidence via TV Link instead of in the actual court room
- Giving evidence behind a screen
- Intermediaries (trained professionals who can assist with explaining the questions)
- Access to the court through another door (subject to court location)
- A separate waiting area (subject to court location)
The Witness Care Officer will tell you what can be done to assist you in court.