You will be informed of the date of the court hearing, and what type of hearing it will be. It could be:
- a preliminary hearing, e.g. to decide on bail or to decide whether the case will be heard at a higher or lower court;
- a trial, where the defendant contests guilt and evidence is heard;
- a guilty plea hearing, where the defendant does not contest guilt, and conviction is certain;
- a sentencing hearing (in many cases the penalty is decided at a special hearing a week, or even a month, following the determination of guilt).
You may take part in trial proceedings:
- as a witness (if the defendant pleads not guilty and if you are required to give oral evidence);
- as an observer;
- by making a Victim Personal Statement (1) if you wish to do so.
You have the right to be present throughout court proceedings unless:
- it is held in private (usually only juvenile court hearings); or
- you will be giving evidence (in which case you can only attend the hearing after you have given your testimony).
You do not need to attend trial proceedings unless you are requested to be a witness and you are compelled to give evidence.
You will also be told if you will be needed to give evidence as a witness, which will generally only be if the defendant contests guilt. As a witness you have to attend the hearing and answer the questions you will be asked.
If you have made a witness statement during the investigation and you have been requested to give oral evidence at the trial, you will be allowed to see the statement again before you testify.
In the beginning of your hearing you will be asked to take an oath or make an affirmation that you will tell the truth. During the hearing the prosecutor and the defendant’s lawyer will ask you questions. The questioner may say or suggest something that you think is wrong. If this happens, you should clearly say that you disagree. Your role as a witness is to tell the truth. When there are no more questions the judge will release you. You can then leave or, if you wish and are aged 14 or over, you can remain in the courtroom and listen during the remainder of the hearing.
If you feel vulnerable or intimidated you are entitled to ask for special measures to be used during the trial and you meet the relevant criteria, the prosecutor may apply to the court before the hearing, for special measures to assist you give evidence. These measures include a screen to shield you from the defendant when in court and giving evidence by live video link from outside the courtroom. The court decides what measures you can use but must take your views into account when making the decision.
Usually you will be heard as a witness only once. However, if necessary, you may be requested to go to court again and answer additional questions.
You can claim certain expenses for travelling to court, and an allowance for meals and lost wages or other financial loss, such as childcare. The amount you can claim will depend on the length of time you have to be away from home or work to go to court.
In England and Wales you can benefit from the assistance of the local Witness Care Unit. A witness care officer will contact you after the defendant is charged. This will be your single point of contact until the end of the trial. Your witness care officer can arrange for you to visit the court before you give evidence, so it will not seem strange to you. He/she will take care of all other assistance you might need such as transport, interpretation, medical help, etc.
Depending on where the crime was committed you can also get assistance from the Witness Service, a voluntary organisation, which helps witnesses cope with going to court by providing information and support.
For further information please consult the booklet Witness in Court. For further information on your rights as a witness, please consult the Witness Charter.If you are a child aged 17 years or under you can ask the prosecutor to apply to the court before the trial for one or more special measures to assist you give evidence in court.
The special measures available include:
- giving evidence through a TV link from outside the courtroom (you will be able to see the courtroom and those in the courtroom will see you on a television screen);
- giving video recorded evidence (if your statement to the police was video recorded it will be played to the court);
- giving evidence behind a screen (a screen will be placed around the witness box to prevent the witness seeing the defendant);
- removal of wigs and gowns (the judge and lawyers will not wear gowns and wigs so that the court feels less formal);
- giving evidence in private – in sex offence cases and those involving intimidation (members of the public will not be allowed in the court room);
- use of communication aids such as an alphabet board;
- examination through an intermediary if you have communication difficulties, e.g. someone who can help you understand the questions being asked.
You have no rights to legal aid unless you are seeking private prosecution, where in some cases legal aid is available. This is because in the UK victims are not party to proceedings.
During the trial you can get the same protection as during the investigation. The police will provide such protection, as they assess is necessary and reasonable, bearing in mind the level, probability and immediacy of the risk. Protection can take different forms e.g. regular patrols near your home, or an alarm that will ring in the local police station. Only in the most serious cases are more drastic protection measures considered (such as anonymity during trials or witness protection programmes).
In some circumstances the court may make a compensation order in respect of any personal injury, loss or damage you have suffered, in these cases you will have to provide details of your losses to the police when you report the crime or soon after. The police will pass these details onto the prosecution service and the prosecution service will request compensation on your behalf. If someone is convicted of the crime, and where personal injury, loss or damage has resulted from the offence, the sentencing court can order that the offender pays an appropriate amount of compensation. The court will take the offender's ability to pay into account and payment may be on a weekly or monthly basis. This compensation order takes priority over any fine that the offender may have to pay.
If you are a victim of violent crime you may be eligible to receive financial compensation from the State. Your application has to be submitted to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. Please consult the factsheet on compensation to victims of crime in England and Wales (available in English and multiple other languages) of the European Judicial Network.
Are there opportunities to reach settlement/conciliation or to start mediation between the offender and myself?
During the trial conciliation and/or mediation may be possible, depending on the nature of the crime.
You would normally be invited to participate in such a procedure. Mediation can only be pursued with your consent and is carried out by police or probation staff.
If you are a foreigner you have all the rights listed above.
In addition, if you do not understand or speak English you are entitled to request an interperter and are entitled on request to translation of certain information. The authorities will endeavour to ensure that a translation or interpreter is provided where necessary, in particular when you are called to give evidence in court as a witness.
- Code of Practice for Victims of Crime – in English
- The Witness Charter – in English
- Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 – in English
- Victim Personal Statement: A guide for police officers, investigators and criminal justice practitioners – in English
- Going to court as a victim or witness – in English
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