What to expect as a witness in court
If you have provided a statement for the prosecution or for the defence you may be called as a witness in court to give evidence at the defendant’s trial.
Is there help available for me as a witness in court?
The Witness Service can provide assistance for any witness who has to attend court. This support can be both practical and emotional. They can provide information about the court process, show you the courtroom prior to the trial and assist with any expenses claim.
If you are a prosecution witness the Crown Prosecution Service witness support unit will be in touch with you and will provide contact details for witness support. If you are a defence witness the solicitor representing the defendant can provide you with support and also provide the contact details for the local witness service.
What happens at court?
When you attend as a witness in court, you can sit in a separate witness room rather than the general waiting area if you wish. You will be spoken to by the prosecution or defence lawyer, as appropriate, before the trial starts.
Will I be told what to say?
Whilst the lawyer will be able to provide you with information on trial procedure, layout of the court and the roles of those involved they cannot “coach” you on the evidence you will give as a witness in court. There are very strict rules about training witnesses because this could have a potentially negative effect on your evidence.
Can I read my statement?
You will be provided with a copy of your statement prior to the trial so that you can read through it before you give evidence. You will not usually be allowed to have it with you when you give evidence though. If the rules of evidence allow, you may be able to refer to your statement during evidence in order to refresh your memory.
Can I speak to any other witnesses?
If there are a number of witnesses, you will not be allowed to communicate with anyone who has given evidence while you are still waiting to do so.
If you are a defence witness, you should also not discuss anything about the trial with the defendant once the trial hearing has started.
The prosecution and defence lawyers are not allowed to discuss any evidence that has been given with you before you give your evidence.
What happens in court?
You will be called into court at the appropriate time and asked to swear on a holy book or affirm that you will tell the truth. You will then be asked questions by the prosecutor first if you are a prosecution witness and then by the defendant’s representative, or vice versa if you are a defence witness. If the defendant is not represented, you may be asked questions by a court appointed lawyer in his place if the court do not feel it is appropriate for him to ask you questions directly.
Once you have finished giving evidence you may be released from court or you can stay in the public gallery to watch the remainder of the trial.
I’m really worried, do I have to attend court?
If you think that you would benefit from “special measures” such as screening from the defendant or giving evidence from remote video link you should contact the prosecution, defence solicitor or court as appropriate.
A witness summons can be issued if the court is aware you do not want to go to court. This is something that you should speak to a solicitor about. If you fail to attend court in answer to a witness summons, then you may be arrested and brought to court.
Contact a criminal law specialist about being a witness in court
It may be that you have given a witness statement to the police and received a witness summons. Alternatively it might be that you are thinking of doing so but worried about the potential consequences.
You might have provided our office with a statement in respect of one of our clients, or are considering doing so and want to discuss this further.
Alternatively please use the contact form below.