Before the Trial

If you are called as a witness to give evidence, you will receive a letter telling you where and when the trial will be, along with information leaflets.

The Code of Conduct for Victims of Crime; the Courts Charter: Crown Court; Courts Charter – Magistrates Courts, and the Witness Care Unit in the Criminal Justice System provide service standards for witnesses which include the following:

  • Only when it is essential in the interest of justice should witnesses be required to attend court to give evidence.
  • If the police have told you that you may be needed as a witness, you can let them know if there are any days when it would be difficult for you to attend court.
  • Once a trial date has been arranged, the defence solicitor and the police should provide the defence and prosecution witnesses respectively with as much notice as possible of the trial date and the time they are required to attend court.
  • You can ask to see a courtroom before the case starts so that you know what to expect. The Witness Service run by Victim Support can arrange for you to visit the court before the hearing.
  • You can reserve a seat in court for a relative or friend accompanying you.
  • You can ask to wait separately from those involved in the case.

The court aims to have the first hearing within six weeks, start most trials within 16 weeks of receiving the case, and to deal with difficult cases, such as murder or rape trials, within a year. If your case is delayed, you can ask the court to explain the delay and tell you when it is likely to be heard. If the date of your hearing is changed, the court will let you, or the people who called you as a witness, know as soon as possible.

Magistrates courts will provide advance information about facilities available for people with disabilities and the telephone number of the Disabled Person’s Officer.

If your health prevents you from going to court or you are out of the country at the time of the trial, the prosecutor or defence can apply for your written statement to be put before the court instead of you having to appear in person. If you have material evidence or documentary evidence and are unlikely to provide this voluntarily, the court can issue an arrest warrant requiring you to attend court, through the Magistrates Court Act 1980 or the Criminal Procedure (Attendance of Witnesses) Act 1965.

Witness intimidation

The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, section 51, makes it a criminal offence to intimidate a witness in the course of an investigation, or to harm or threaten to harm a witness after the trial has ended. The Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, section 39 – 40, extends this provision by creating an offence of witness intimidation in relation to civil proceedings.

If someone is convicted of intimidating a witness in a trial which resulted in an acquittal, section 54 of the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 provides for the acquittal to be quashed and a re-trial to be held. The court must certify that there is a real possibility that, but for the intimidation, the person would not have been acquitted, and that it is not contrary to the interests of justice for there to be a re-trial.

If you are in fear from the defendant or their associates, the prosecutor can apply for your written statement to be put before the court instead of you having to appear in person.

Acceptance of pleas

The Attorney General’s Guidelines on the Acceptance of Pleas, issued in December 2000, provide guidance when the prosecution decide to accept the defendant’s plea of guilty to a lesser offence or to offer no evidence. They state ‘the prosecution should whenever practicable speak with the victim or the victim’s family so that the position can be explained and their views and interests can be taken into account as part of the decision making process. The victim or the victim’s family should then be kept informed and decisions explained once they are made at court.’

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