Everything You Need to Know About Being a Witness

Nobody wants to witness a crime. Not only can it be traumatising for you, but it can also come with some responsibilities. Namely, this means going to court and having to give evidence.

A lot of people wonder whether they have rights as a witness or whether they are compelled to go to court. Let’s find out.

What is the Witness Charter?

If you want to find out more about the standards of service you can expect as a witness, you can consult the Witness Charter. In England and Wales, this is going to detail what you can expect in terms of duty of care towards you.

Some of the things you can expect as a witness is always having a point of contact. They will inform you of the trial and everything you need to know leading up to the case. You will also have the ability to claim travel expenses and can expect to be treated with respect at all times.

Do I have to Give Evidence in Court?

One of the most common questions is whether you have to give evidence in court. Even if you do not want to, you are required to do this if you are asked to. Under the Crime and Disorder Act 1988, prosecutors can compel you to give evidence if you refuse. This means that you will be summoned and must attend court in order to give your evidence. While it can be scary giving evidence in a trial, it is a legal requirement.

What Will Happen Before and on the Day of the Trial?

If you are needed as a witness in a trial, you will receive a witness summons. This is going to tell you the day you must attend court. If you ignore this summons, you can be arrested. Therefore, it is important to adhere to this.

The Witness Service should be in contact with you to offer you support leading up to the trial. A member of their team will let you know more about what you can expect, how the trial works and even let you see the court before the trial day to make you feel more relaxed.

Arriving at court on the day of the trial can be daunting. But it is important to remember that your role is going to be helpful for finding out justice in the case. On your arrival, a member of Witness Service should be there to meet you. Normally, there is a waiting room and this is where you will stay until the court are ready for your evidence.

When you are giving evidence, it is important to answer all questions truthfully. You will be shown to the witness box. The time you will be questioned will depend on the incident and how much information you have. Normally, you will have to repeat a religious oath or agree to tell the truth, which is referred to as an affirmation.

You can expect to go through examination and cross-examination. In other words, you will be asked questions by the prosecutor and defence lawyer for the accused. If you do not understand a question, it is best to ask this be clarified before answering. While you may be nervous, ensure you speak loudly and clearly so that everyone can hear your answers. Take your time.

After you have given your evidence in court, you will be free to leave. You do not have to stay for the rest of the trial. Once the trial has ended several weeks later, you will be made aware of the verdict and whether the accused was found guilty or not guilty. In addition, you can find out the sentencing from the trial too. The Witness Service will keep you informed.

Do I have to See the Accused?

A lot of people worry about giving evidence in the same room as the accused. This can be something that fills you with worry and prevent people from wanting to give evidence in an important case.

Most of the time, you will be the courtroom with the accused in order to give your evidence. In some circumstances, a partition can be put up before the accused and the witness if this is going to make you feel more comfortable.

However, if this is going to be particularly hard for you and the judge agrees, it is possible to given evidence via a live link in some cases. This means going to another room and being recorded for the purpose of the case. You will be asked questions and you will give evidence over this live link to the courtroom. This avoids you having to see the accused at any point and can make the whole experience a lot better.