What to expect at court

If you have been a victim of crime you may be asked to attend court to give evidence in a trial. The thought of attending court can be unsettling, but it can help to familiarise yourself with what will happen before, during and after the court process.

Before

If you have experienced crime and given a witness statement to the police, they will pass your details to your local Witness Care Unit (WCU). They will assign you a witness care officer, who will be your main point of contact and support throughout the court process. They will keep you up-to-date on your case, and will tell you if, and when, you have to go to court to give evidence.

Tell your witness care officer if you have any additional needs, for example if you need help with a disability, if you may need an interpreter, or you wish to apply for special measures.

You can expect a level of service from the criminal justice system, as set out in The Witness Charter. Read more about your rights as witness

During

On the day of the trial you will have to go to court to give your evidence. Remember to take the letter asking you to attend court (with your case number on). You may also wish to take money for refreshments and car parking, and something to keep you occupied, as you may have to wait some time to give evidence.

You can get help and support from a Witness Service volunteer on the day of the trial.

When you enter the courtroom you will be ‘sworn in’, which means you agree to tell the truth. Giving evidence may be unnerving; you might be asked to recount unpleasant and upsetting details relating to the crime or personal events. You may be cross-examined (asked questions) by the defendant’s lawyer; this may be a difficult experience, but it’s important to remember that it’s not a personal attack on you.

The judge or magistrate will tell you when you can leave after you’ve given your evidence. Ask the witness service if you’re not sure. You mustn’t discuss anything you said or heard in court with other witnesses who haven’t yet given their evidence.

After

The WCU will inform you of the outcome of the trial, and will explain the sentence if the offender is convicted. They’ll also let you know if an application to appeal the sentence is made, and details of any hearing and the subsequent outcome.

You may join the Victim Contact Scheme if you’ve been a victim of a violent or sexual offence for which the offender is sentenced to 12 months or more in prison. You’ll be assigned a Victim Liaison Officer (VLO) who can keep you informed on the offender’s sentence, discuss any concerns you might have, and help to make arrangements for your protection after the offender comes out of prison.

If you have unwanted communication from a prisoner, or you’re worried about their release from prison, you can contact the HM Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) Victims Helpline on 0300 060 6699 or email victim.helpline@justice.gov.uk.

If the offender in your case is found not guilty, it can be a huge disappointment for you, your friends and family. If you need help to cope and move forward, we will be there to support you after the trial.

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

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