Going to court
When the police have completed their investigation, they will decide whether or not they have enough information and evidence to present to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). Together the police and CPS will decide whether or not to take the case to court.
If they decide not to take the case to court, they will tell you why within 5 working days.
Not going to court – your right to contest the decision
If you are unhappy with the decision made by the police and the CPS, you have a right to seek a review of the decision.
The Witness Care Unit
The Witness Care Unit will contact you to tell you where and when the trial will take place. They can also help you with arranging childcare or transport for the trial.
Making a victim personal statement
You should also be given the chance to make a ‘Victim Personal Statement’ (VPS) – this is your opportunity to explain to people how the crime has affected you. If your case goes to court, it may be shared with people in the courtroom.
You'll be able to make a VPS at the same time as you give your witness statement to the police. Even if you aren’t required to give a witness statement because you weren’t actually a witness to the crime, you can still you can still provide a VPS if you are:
- intimidated or vulnerable, have been persistently targeted, or are the victim of a serious crime
- the parent or guardian of a young victim of crime
- a close relative of someone who's died as a result of the crime
Getting extra help in court – special measures
If you’re going to be a witness in court, you may be entitled to ‘special measures’ designed to help you give evidence. These are usually brought in for victims of very serious crimes or vulnerable victims – for example children or victims of sexual violence.
Special measures can include:
- Giving evidence in private – this involves the court being cleared of anyone not directly involved in the case – for example, the public gallery and members of the press.
- Removal of wigs and gowns – barristers, judges and other court employees wear formal uniforms in court, including wigs and gowns. Sometimes these can be intimidating for witnesses, such as children, so they are removed.
- Intermediary - people with learning difficulties may benefit from being accompanied to court by an intermediary.
- Video statement (‘evidence in chief’) – if you recorded a video statement for the police when you first reported the crime to them, this video can be played in the courtroom to prevent you having to repeat yourself and go into detail again about what happened. You will then be asked questions about your statement by the barristers as part of the cross examination.
- TV/video link – some witnesses can give evidence using a live video link. This means the witness is in a separate building or room, rather than the courtroom itself. Everyone in the court will still be able to see the video but you won’t have to be there.
- Screens – you may be evidence behind a screen, which means only the judge, jury and barristers can see you, and you are hidden from the person who is on trial (defendant)
If you’ve given evidence at a trial, you will also be able to claim some expenses to help cover your travel, food, and any loss of earnings.
Getting help and support from The Witness Service
It is not unusual to feel worried about giving evidence in court.
Before and during the trial you can get free help and support from the Citizens Advice Witness Service, which is separate from the police, the Witness Care Unit and the Crown Prosecution Service.
How the Witness Service can help
They have trained volunteers who will give you practical and emotional support and information before you go to court.
You can talk to them in confidence (though they’re not allowed to discuss your evidence with you) and they’ll make sure you get all the information and support you need.
They can arrange for you to visit the court before the trial, so you know what to expect on the day and you’ll have an opportunity to ask them questions.
They’ll be there on the day of the trial to keep you updated and help with any problems. If you like, they can come into the court with you, so you won’t be alone.
Contact the Witness Service
When you gave your statement to the police, they may have told you about the Witness Service and asked if you’d like them to get in touch with you. If this is the case, one of their staff or volunteers will call you 3 to 4 weeks before the trial.
If you said no at the time, but have changed your mind, you can still get support at any time before or during the trial - just ask the police or your witness care officer to let us know, or contact us.
You can contact the Witness Service online or call 0300 332 1000.
What happens when you go to court
If you’re the close relative of someone who was killed during a crime, or a witness to the crime, you will normally be able to meet the Crown Prosecution Service prosecutor to find out what might happen at the trial.
If you have written a witness statement, you will be given the chance to look at it again before you give evidence, so you can remember what you said.
Court staff can arrange for you to enter the court using a different door to the person who is on trial. They should also make sure that you are sat away from their friends and family. If there isn’t a separate area, speak to the court staff – they can make sure you are safe.
If you’re a witness at the trial, you won’t be able to watch proceedings until after you have given evidence. If you are not a witness you can watch from the very beginning, but make sure that court staff know that you are there.
A police officer or someone from the Witness Care Unit will tell you the outcome of the trial within one working day of having been told this information by the court. If the person on trial is found:
- guilty – the judge or magistrate will decide what their sentence should be
- not guilty – they will be acquitted (let off the charges) and allowed to walk free from the court
If the police or the Witness Care Unit can’t answer any queries you have about the outcome of the trial, you can contact the Crown Prosecution Services for help.
Regardless of the outcome of the trial, you are still entitled to receive help and support.
Your rights: the Witness Charter
The Witness Charter describes how you can be expected to be treated by the police if you are witness to a crime or incident, and you are asked to give evidence in a criminal court.
The following video playlist produced by the Ministry of Justice talks you through lots of useful information. There are eight videos in the playlist, including:
- Going to the court as a witness - introduction
- About the Witness Care Unit
- The justice process
- Going to court - the essentials
- Which court?
- Who's who in the courtroom
- The trial - what to expect
- Frequently asked questions