A frightened witness is not a good witness, as any criminal lawyer will attest. But increasingly, help and advice is available for those finding themselves in the position of having to give evidence in a criminal court.
Anyone can find themselves in the position of being a witness. You may see a crime take place or you may be the victim of a crime. You may have information which forms the basis of a court case. Many people are frightened at the prospect – they may never have been in court before and feel confused and intimidated by the system. Giving evidence may be difficult or accusing someone of serious crime a frightening experience.
However, there are organizations which can help you and you need to get in touch with these as soon as possible. One of these is the Victim Support’s Witness Service. This charity offers a range of services for witnesses appearing in criminal courts in England and Wales. You can speak to one of their members, have a visit to court and someone to accompany you.
If you are involved in a police investigation as a witness to a crime, the police will assist you if you have any concerns or special needs. They should also keep you informed about the case. Appearing as a witness, you need to inform the court if you need an interpreter or have a disability or special needs. If a child is a witness, a pack called ‘Young Witness Pack’ is available and children can also give their evidence from a private room or from behind screens. Crown Court centres and Magistrates’ Courts have a Child Witness Officer to answer questions about the court.
Intimidation of witnesses is a criminal offence and police must be notified immediately if you have been threatened in any way before or after trial. The Court is very concerned to help if you want to sit somewhere away from friends or family of the defendant. Her Majesty’s Courts Services (HMCS) has developed an interactive, multilingual and animated DVD to help witnesses and victims understand their role in the legal system.
The DVD entitled ‘Going to Court: A step by step guide to being a witness’ was developed with Victim Support and can be obtained at www.directgov.uk/goingtocourtvideo. Further information: Contact your local Witness Service. The Victim Supportline on 0845 30 30 900 can put you in touch with them. The Supportline is open:
- 9am - 9pm Mondays to Fridays
- 9am - 7pm weekends
- 9am - 5pm bank holidays