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Sunday, 30 October 2011

Victims and witnesses: preparing to go to court

If you are going to court as a victim or witness, it can help if you know what to expect and how to prepare. Find out how how you can get help before you go to court.

Find out if there is going to be a trial

You may have to go to court if the person pleads not guilty

If you’re a victim or a witness of a crime, you may be asked to give evidence in court. It may be some time before you know if you need to go to court, as legal cases can take a long time to prepare.

The person accused of the crime will be brought before a magistrates’ court, usually within a few days, to make a plea. This means they will be asked if they want to:

  • admit the crime, and plead guilty
  • deny it, and plead not guilty

You may have to go to court if they plead not guilty. This means there will be a trial to find out if they are guilty. You do not have to go to court if they plead guilty.

Find out when you have to go to court

You should only have to go to court when you are due to give evidence.

If you are a victim or a prosecution witness

If you are a victim of the crime or a witness for the prosecution, you will be contacted by a witness care officer. Witness care officers work for the Crown Prosecution Service and the police.

The witness care officer will be your point of contact from the time someone is charged to the end of the court case. They will guide you on going to court, and make sure you get any support you need.

With some crimes, like rape, domestic violence or crimes against children, a specialist police officer will be your point of contact and will help you.

The witness care officer or police officer will send you a letter letting you know the date of the trial.

If you are a defence witness

If you are a witness for the defence, the defence lawyer will contact you to let you know when you have to go to court.

If you can't make the date of the trial

If you can't make the date of the trial, you should tell your witness care officer or the defence lawyer.

You should do this right away, so that they can decide what to do.

Reviewing your statement

You can read your statement again before going to court

If you have given a statement to the police, it might be a while since you have seen it.

You can ask to see the statement again before you go to court so you can refresh your memory.

If you have been called as a prosecution witness, you can ask the Crown Prosecution Service to see the statement.

If you have been called as a defence witness, you can ask the defence solicitor to let you see the statement.

Find out about the court

The trial could take place in a youth court (if the defendant is aged 17 or under), a magistrates’ court or a Crown Court.

If you are a victim or a prosecution witness, the witness care officer will explain how the court works. They can help prepare you so you know what will happen during the trial.

Speak to your witness care officer if you think you’ll need help with things such as:

  • an interpreter
  • someone to help you give evidence in the court, known as an ‘intermediary’
  • child care
  • transport - getting to the court

Ask your witness care officer if you would like to visit the court before the trial. They can arrange for someone to take you to court and show you around the courtroom. This will give you a clearer idea of what will happen during the trial.

If you are a defence witness, a service based in the court called the Witness Service can arrange a pre-trial visit. You can find your local service by contacting Victim Support. You can also ask the solicitor representing the defendant.

You should also be given a copy of the leaflet on being a witness. You can download a copy using the court finder, below, and find out information about the court including contact details, facilities and maps.

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Additional links

Going to court as a witness

Watch a video giving a step-by-step guide to going to court as a witness

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