If the case you’re involved in goes to court, the police will pass your details to the Witness Service who’ll give you free help and support.
Using the Witness Service
There are Witness Service volunteers you can speak to in every Crown Court and magistrates’ court in England and Wales.
You can also speak to the Witness Service before you go to court by calling 0300 332 1000 or filling in a referral form. They should contact you within 2 working days.
The Witness Service can give you practical and emotional support by:
- offering an independent, impartial and confidential service
- giving you information on court procedure and layout
- arranging for you to visit the court before the trial starts, so you’ll know what to expect
- providing any practical assistance you need at court
- helping you to cope with any anxiety caused by court
The Witness Service can’t give you legal advice or discuss specific details of the trial.
Preparing to go to court
The Witness Care Unit will be in touch to make sure you give your best evidence at the trial. They will:
- let you know where and when the trial will happen
- help you get to the trial and give evidence, including arranging child care or organising transport
If you've given a statement, you'll be able to see it again before you give evidence, so that you can remember what you said.
If you're the close relative of someone killed as a result of a crime, you can ask to meet the CPS prosecutor and find out what might happen at the trial. You might also be able to meet them if you're going to court as a witness.
Going to the trial
You can ask court staff to let you into the court through a different door to the defendant, and seat you away from their friends and family.
If you're a witness you won't be able to watch the trial until you've given evidence.
If you’re not a witness you can go to the trial from the beginning. Make sure court staff know you're there.
Find out more about what happens on the day of the trial.
Protecting you and helping you give evidence
If you're giving evidence, the judge or magistrates might decide to help you in different ways. These are known as ‘special measures’ and they include:
- putting screens or curtains around you in the courtroom so you can’t see the suspect
- giving evidence by live video link, so you don’t have to sit in the courtroom
- having your statement recorded on video to be played to the courtroom
- asking the public to leave the courtroom while you give evidence
- getting specialist help to understand questions and communicate answers through Registered Intermediaries
Special measures are not automatically available to everyone. The court might decide they're needed if you:
- are the victim of a serious crime (for example, a murder or terrorist attack)
- are under 18
- have a mental health condition or lack mental capacity
- have a disability
- have been a victim of crime repeatedly - for example you’re being harassed or stalked
Reaching a verdict and sentencing
If the defendant’s found guilty, the judge or magistrates will decide on their sentence.
The defendant may choose to plead guilty at the last minute. This can be frustrating if you've prepared to give evidence, but it means they accept responsibility and they'll be sentenced.
If the defendant’s found not guilty ('acquitted'), they'll walk free from the court.
The Witness Care Unit or the investigating officer will tell you the outcome of the trial within 1 working day of being informed by the court.
If they can't answer all your questions about the sentence, they should put you in touch with the CPS, who’ll be able to help. They can refer you to victim services for more help if you need it.
Claiming expenses for going to court
If you've given evidence at the trial, you'll be able to claim some expenses to cover your travel, food, loss of earnings and child care.
The CPS representative at court will give you a copy of the expenses form.
Making a complaint
You can make a complaint if you’re unhappy with the way you’re treated by any of the services supporting you after a crime.
Your rights during a court trial
You have the right to be told:
- the time, date and location of court hearings
- the outcome of court hearings
If you’re asked to give evidence in court, you have the right to:
- be told what to expect at court and what support you might need
- be given a ‘court familiarisation visit’ before the hearing
- enter the court through a different entrance from the suspect and sit in a separate waiting area, wherever possible
- meet someone from the CPS to ask about the court process, if possible
If the defendant’s found guilty you have the right to:
- read out your Victim Personal Statement to the offender in court, if appropriate
- be told what sentence the offender has received, including a short explanation of the sentence
What you should do if you’re going to court
- Get free help and support from the Witness Service - either inside the court on the day of the trial, or by calling 0300 332 1000 at least 2 working days before the trial
- Tell the Witness Care Unit if you’re feeling vulnerable or think you might need special measures at court
- Make sure you bring some things to help you pass the time, such as books or headphones, in case you’re kept waiting on the day of the trial
- Ask your CPS representative for a form if you want to claim expenses