Going to court - FAQs

Do I have to go to court/give evidence?

If you’ve been asked to attend a trial, it is your legal duty to attend. If you have any reasons why you may not be able to make it you must say as soon as possible – talk to your witness care officer. If you’ve made a statement to the police, you will have been asked to sign the statement agreeing to attend court as a witness. If you have been asked to attend court, it’s likely that you will have to give evidence. If you decide not to give evidence, the magistrate or judge can issue a summons requiring you to attend court. If you still decide not to attend, in exceptional circumstances, a warrant can be issued for your arrest and you will be brought to court to explain why you have refused to attend willingly.

How will I know when I have to go court?

A witness care officer will contact you to tell you when you need to go to court, and which court to go to.

What if I can’t afford to get to court?

If you’re worried about travel expenses or paying for someone to look after your children while you’re at court, contact your witness care officer and explain the situation. They will do everything they can to make sure you can be there.

What should I bring with me?

On the day you should bring the letter asking you to come to court (with your case number on), some money for food, drinks and parking or public transport, and importantly, something to do or read. Despite everyone’s best efforts, there can be a lot of waiting around on a trial day.

How long will I be at court? 

This depends on a number of factors. The time given in your letter is when the day’s cases start. Your case might not be first, so be prepared to wait all day and make any arrangements you need to, eg arranging childcare or taking time off work.

Your witness care officer and the Citizens Advice witness service will keep you updated as the trial progresses.

Can I bring my children?

It is not advisable to bring children to court (unless they are witnesses). There are no childcare facilities: the witness service cannot look after any children at court unless they are witnesses.

Will I see the defendant in court?

Some courts have a separate entrance for witnesses. If you’re a young, vulnerable or intimidated witness, special measures may be requested to help you to give your best evidence in court on the day. (Special measures can include giving evidence from behind a screen in the courtroom or by a television link, or having a support person with you in court.)

The defendant will be in the courtroom during the trial.

What is a Victim Personal Statement (VPS), and can it affect the sentence?

A victim personal statement (VPS) is made by a victim of crime. It gives you a chance to say how you’ve been affected by what happened and the impact the crime has had on your life. (It’s different to the witness statement you make with the police).

A VPS can help the police and the CPS decide whether to oppose any bail application by the offender; if an offender is given bail, it can also help to decide any bail conditions.

When passing sentence, the judge or magistrate will consider all factors in the case, including the evidence that they’ve heard or that has been read in court. They will also consider the VPS. They will then take into account any relevant sentencing guidelines and pass an appropriate sentence.

Can I discuss my evidence with my friends and family?

It’s really important that you don’t discuss your evidence with anyone. If you have any questions or worries about your evidence, speak to your witness care officer.

Will I get a break?

You can ask the judge, magistrate or a member of staff if you need to take a break during your hearing.

The court will break for lunch at some point during the day, usually around 1pm. The witness service will be able to explain about lunchtime arrangements, such as whether you can go out.

Can I leave after giving evidence?

The judge or magistrate or will tell you when you can leave. If you’re not sure, ask the witness service who will liaise with the court for you.

It’s possible that the trial will continue through to another day, but this will become clearer as the case progresses. The witness service will keep you updated.

When will I know the result of the trial?

Your witness care officer will contact you to tell you the outcome of the trial.  

Can I claim expenses?

You will be given a claims form on the day of the trial. Make sure you keep all receipts for any money you spend on travel, parking etc. Once you have finished giving evidence, fill out the form and give it to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) if you are a prosecution witness or Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service if you are a defence witness. It can take two to four weeks to receive payment.

Further information

Gov.uk: what to expect coming to a court or tribunal

Gov.uk: check which facilities are available in the court you’re going to

Going to court as a witness - explainer videos from the Ministry of Justice

The essentials (YouTube)

Who's who in the court room (YouTube)

The trial - what to expect (YouTube)

Frequently asked questions (YouTube)

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