If you’ve witnessed a crime you may be required to attend a criminal court to give evidence in a trial. The thought of attending court can be unsettling if you do not know what is expected of you, or what rights you are entitled to.
What is The Witness Charter?
If you have to attend court to give evidence, there is a level of service that you can expect from the criminal justice system in England and Wales. This is set out in The Witness Charter.
The charter tells you how you can expect to be treated by the police if you are a witness to a crime and are required to give evidence. It sets out what help and support you can expect to receive at every stage of the process from all the agencies and lawyers involved, though it does not cover the work of judges and magistrates.
Key standards of care
The standards in the Witness Charter aren’t legally binding (unlike the Victims’ Code). However, as a witness you can expect:
- to be treated with dignity and respect at all times
- to have a main point of contact who will keep you informed on the progress of the case, and either provide support or refer you to relevant support agencies
- to have a needs assessment conducted to identify any help you may need to give evidence during the investigation or in court, including any special measures if you are a vulnerable or intimidated witness
- special measures, if granted, may include allowing you to give evidence from outside of the courtroom via videolink, and the removal of wigs and gowns by judges and lawyers
- to be given information, or details of where information can be found, about the court and the court process in advance of giving evidence so you know what to expect
- the ability to claim expenses for travel to and from the court, and compensation for loss of earnings incurred as a result of attending court
- that measures will be taken in court to ensure it is a safe environment, and that prosecution witnesses, defence witnesses and their family and friends are able to wait in separate areas
- to be able to visit the court before the trial and be shown around by the Witness Service (which may be particularly helpful if you have been granted special measures).
Victims of crime who are called as witnesses
If you are a victim of crime called to give evidence as a witness, you also have specific legal entitlements, as set out in the Victims’ Code. These include:
- the right to request special measures in court if you are a vulnerable or intimidated witness
- the right to ask court staff if you can enter the court building through a separate entrance from the defendant and their family and friends
- if you do not speak English, the right to request interpretation into a language you understand when giving evidence as a witness
- the right to meet the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) advocate or representative and to ask them questions about the court process, where possible.
Support in court
The Citizens Advice Witness Service can provide help and support while you are in court. Fill in the contact form or call 0300 332 1000.
How to make a complaint
If you feel unhappy with the level of service you have received as a witness, you can make a complaint directly to the criminal justice agency concerned. For example, your local police force or the CPS.
The ombudsman is responsible for considering complaints relating to victims and witnesses of crime – but they won’t consider cases directly from the public. (Find your local MP
The Witness Charter: standards of care for witnesses
The Witness Charter (pdf)
Victim Support: going to court
Crown Prosecution Service: victims and witnesses
Citizens Advice: going to court as a witness