Giving your evidence
Giving evidence can be frightening, but the people supporting you will give you as much help and advice as you need. All you have to remember is to tell the truth.
You are going to court to tell the judge and jury or magistrate what happened to you, or what you saw or heard.
The court really wants to hear what you have to say, so you are the important person. If you cannot remember what happened, then say so, you will not get into trouble. If you don’t understand something, it’s fine to say that too.
How will I know who everyone is?
The barrister or solicitor acting for you or the victim should come and meet you in the waiting room to explain what is going to happen and when you are likely to give evidence. You can ask them any questions you want to. The police officer who is in charge of the case should also come and see you. You can ask them any questions or if you have any worries too.
In some Crown Courts you can ask to meet the judge and barristers before you give evidence. This allows you to talk to the judge and meet the people who are going to ask you questions. The judge will sometimes ask if you want them to wear their wigs or not too.
Your witness supporter can remind you who everyone is and what their job is.
Where will I go?
Your witness supporter will be with you to show you exactly where you need to go.
Your special measure may include giving your evidence via the TV link room. This is a separate room in the court building (although sometimes it’s in a different building to the court) where you will sit with your witness supporter, or anyone else you have chosen to support you, and speak to the courtroom through the live link.
When it is time for you to give evidence you will be asked to go to the link room with your supporter. It’s probably a good idea to visit the toilet before you go in. You will only see the judge or the magistrate, and the two barristers or solicitors on the TV screen.
It’s like webcam, Skype or face-timing. You will be able to see and hear them, and they can see and hear you. Everyone else in the courtroom will be able to see you on the TV screens too. This is so they can all hear what happened.
If you have asked to give your evidence behind screens you will go into the courtroom with your supporter. The defendant will not be in the dock when you come in or leave the courtroom, so you will not have to see them, and they will not be able to see you. But you will see and be seen by the judge, barristers and jury.
What will happen during the trial?
During the trial, lawyers (known as barristers or solicitors) will ask people in the court – the witnesses, and the defendant – questions, while everyone listens very carefully. Some lawyers, called prosecutors, try to prove that the defendant broke the law. Other lawyers, known as defence lawyers, try to prove the defendant did not break the law.
During the trial, it’s likely that a number of witnesses – often people just like you – will be giving evidence.
Once the trial has started, you will not be able to go into the courtroom until it’s your turn to give evidence. If you are waiting at court, someone from the Witness Service or court staff should be able to show you a place where you can wait away from the public area. You won’t have to wait with the defendant, or their friends or family. You may also be able to wait somewhere nearby, outside the court building,
Sometimes, the trial is adjourned or delayed at the last minute, and you don’t get the chance to give your evidence that day. If that happens, you will be told a new day when you need to go to court to give evidence. Sometimes the defendant changes their mind and decides to plead guilty – agreeing that they have broken the law – and you will not have to give evidence at all.
If you do give evidence, once you have told the court about what you saw or heard, and have answered any questions, the judge or magistrates will thank you for coming, and you should be able to go home.
When all the witnesses have finished, the court must decide whether or not the defendant broke the law. In a magistrates’ court, the magistrates leave the courtroom and decide together whether the defendant broke the law. In the Crown Court, this decision is made by a group of ordinary people called the jury.
Who will I have to talk to?
When you giving evidence in the TV link room or the courtroom the judge or magistrate will speak to you first and ask your name. If you are aged 14 or over, you will need to say a promise, called an oath, that you are going to tell the truth. This will be read out line by line by the usher for you to repeat. The witness supporter may then be asked to take a promise too. If you are under 14, you will not be asked to take the oath but will be asked to tell the truth.
If you have made a visually recorded statement, this will be shown to the court. You will have seen this again before you came to court, to remind you of what you said and what happened. You do not have to watch this again at the same time as everyone in the courtroom. You can ask not to see it at this time if you don’t want to.
If you wrote a statement with the police officer, then you can read this in the waiting room before you go in to give your evidence.
The next person to speak to you will be one of the barristers or solicitors; sometimes both ask you questions, but sometimes only one.
What questions will they ask me?
The barristers or solicitors are talking to you and asking you questions so that the judge and jury or the magistrates can understand as much as possible about what happened.
They may not ask you about everything that happened, but they may ask you for a bit more detail about particular things. Don’t worry – all you have to do is to tell the truth. Nobody is allowed to tell you what to say; the court wants to hear what happened from you in your own words.
Try to listen carefully to the questions and make sure you understand them. Barristers and solicitors sometimes use words or phrases that are hard for witnesses to understand, or that you may not have heard before. So if you don’t understand, it’s fine to say: “I don’t understand. Can you ask me that again in a different way?” If they ask you the question again and you still don’t understand it, it is OK to say: “I’m sorry, but I still don’t understand.”
Sometimes you may get asked two or three questions together. If this happens, it’s okay to say: “Please ask me the questions one at a time.” It’s important to be sure that you know what each question means before you answer it.
How should I answer their questions?
Think carefully before you answer – it’s good to take your time. If you know the answer, tell the court. Speak as clearly and loudly as you can, say what happened, and try not to leave anything out.
This is your time to tell your truth. No-one is going to be angry with you. But don’t make anything up, and don’t guess. If you can’t remember, then it’s fine to say that to the court. And if you don’t agree with what someone is asking you, then it’s important to say that too. Remember, the court wants to hear what happened from you in your own words – not what anyone else thinks happened.
Some questions may be about something the defendant did or said. The questions might make you feel embarrassed or upset. It’s all right to use any words you need to. The most important thing is telling the court everything you know. The judge or the magistrates are there to make sure everything is fair, and no-one will be cross with you.