What special measures are right for me?
The police should explain what special measures are available. Your witness supporter is also a good person to talk to about special measures and you can ask to see special measures and practice with them when you go on your pre-trial visit at court.
Special measures need to be arranged before the trial, and agreed by the judge. The judge will make their decision based on what the police and the prosecutor have told them you want. So it’s important to tell them what you think.
Below are the main special measures that can be put in place to help you give evidence.
Visually recorded evidence
When the police talked to you about what happened to you, or what you saw or heard, they may have made a visual recording of what you said – your statement. This can then be played at the trial as your main evidence, and is seen by everyone in the courtroom. You are allowed to watch the recording again before the trial to help refresh your memory, but if you don’t want to watch it at the trial, you can ask not to.
Pre-recorded cross examination
Courts in some places are also trying a new method of giving evidence, called pre-recorded cross-examination. This means that, rather than ask you about your evidence on the day of the trial in the courtroom, you will be asked about your evidence by both the prosecution and defence barristers and solicitors, in front of a judge, before the trial. The questions, and your answers, will be recorded – just like your main evidence – and will then be played in the courtroom on the day of the trial. Ask your young witness supporter who is helping you if the court where you are giving evidence can do this.
Giving evidence via a TV link
Most courts have a TV link room for young witnesses, which means that you can give your evidence away from the main courtroom. The TV link rooms are usually another room in the court building, although sometimes they are in a separate building.
The rooms have a TV with a camera on it, and another camera on the wall. The cameras are linked to TV screens in the courtroom. When these are switched on, people in the courtroom (including the defendant) can see you and hear what you are saying. But you will not have to see the defendant or the jury – you will only see the person who is asking you questions.
Things to remember when using the TV link:
- If there’s anything you don’t understand, just ask the judge or magistrates to explain.
- Even if you can’t see the judge or magistrates on the screen, they can always hear and see you.
- People in the courtroom write down the things you say. This can be quite slow, so don’t worry if there are silent gaps between the questions.
- If you have a pre-trial visit, you can try out the TV link; sit in the court and ask someone to speak to you from the TV link room.
Using screens in the court room
You can give your evidence in the courtroom but have a partition, known as screens placed around the witness box. This means that you will not have to see the defendant (and the defendant will not be able to see you), and the defendant will not be in the dock when you come in or leave the courtroom. But you will see and be seen by the judge, barristers and jury.
Giving evidence in private
If someone has been making you feel worried or frightened about giving evidence, or the case that you are a witness for involves a sexual offence, then members of the public might not be allowed into the courtroom during your evidence.
Using an intermediary
People at court often use difficult words. Questions may seem long or complicated, and hard to understand. An intermediary helps you to understand the questions you are asked, and can help the court understand what you want to say.
You can ask for an intermediary if you are worried that:
- you might not understand questions at court
- it would be difficult for you to say you do not understand
- the court will not understand what you say.
If you would like an intermediary to help you, talk to your police officer or your witness supporter before the day of the trial. The magistrates or judge will decide whether you can have help from an intermediary. If they decide you can, you will meet the intermediary before you go to court. They will sit with you while you give your evidence, help you understand the questions, and help the people asking you questions to understand your answers.
Removal of wigs and gowns
Some young witnesses find the wigs and gowns worn by judges and barristers in the Crown Court quite scary. If you would feel more comfortable if judges and barristers took these off, talk to your young witness supporter.
Helping you to explain what happened
Sometimes it can be difficult to find the rights words to explain what you saw or heard, or you might use other ways to communicate. If that’s the case, you may be able to use an aid, such as a sign and symbol board, to help you give your answers to the court.