How can I be involved in the trial?
You will be informed of the decision to prosecute in writing by theVictim and Witness Care Unit. They will contact you to check your availability to attend court before a trial date is set and later inform you of the date set for the court hearing. They will also appoint a case officer to look after your case.
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.
You do not have to attend trial proceedings unless you are requested to be a witness and you are compelled to give evidence.
What are my rights as a witness?
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 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. When there are no more questions the judge will release you. You can leave or, if you wish, you can remain in the courtroom and listen during the remainder of the hearing.
If you feel vulnerable or intimidated 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 CCTV 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.
In Northern Ireland you can benefit from the assistance of the witness services. If you are a victim or witness for the prosecution, the witness services will be available before, during and after the trial to make sure that you are well informed and supported. There are two types of witness service available – one for adult witnesses, which is run by Victim Support (the Witness Service), and one for witnesses under the age of 18 (the Young Witness Service), which is run by the NSPCC.
The aim of these services is to help prosecution victims and witnesses, and their families and friends, to deal with the experience of going to court and giving evidence. Both witness services normally phone witnesses before the court hearing to offer their services. Trained volunteers and staff from the services provide a free and confidential service including:
- having someone to talk to;
- providing information on court procedures;
- going with you to the court and letting you look around the courtroom before you are called as a witness;
- providing a quiet place for you to wait before and during the hearing;
- having someone to go with you into the courtroom or the live TV link room when you give evidence;
- giving practical help with things such as expense forms;
- putting you in touch with people who can answer specific legal questions (the witness services do not discuss evidence with witnesses); and
- giving you a chance to talk over the case once it is over, to get more help or information.
For further information please read the booklet Attending as a Witness in a Criminal Court.
I am a minor. Do I have additional rights?
If you are a child under 18 years of age you can ask the prosecutor to apply to the court before the trial for special measures to assist you give evidence in court.
The special measures available include:
- giving evidence through a TV link while sitting 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 you 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.
Can I receive legal aid?
An assessment is made based on the case and financial eligibility.
How can I get protection, if I am in danger?
The police will provide such protective measures, as are necessary and reasonable, bearing in mind the level, probability and immediacy of the risk. Protective measures can take different forms e.g. regular patrols near your home. Only very exceptionally and in the most serious cases are more drastic protective measures considered (such as anonymity during trials or witness protection programmes).
How can I claim damages from the offender or receive compensation from the State?
In some circumstances you may be able to claim damages from the offender, 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 on to the prosecution service and the Public Prosecution Service can ask the court to make a compensation order in appropriate cases. If someone is convicted of the crime the sentencing court may order that the offender pays all, or a proportion, of the losses you have suffered unless he/she is unable to do so. This 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 apply for financial compensation from the State. Your application has to be submitted to the Northern Ireland Compensation Services. Please consult the factsheet on compensation to victims of crime in Northern Ireland (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?
There are no opportunities to reach settlement/conciliation or to start mediation with offender other than a diversionary Youth Conference.
I am a foreigner. How are my rights and interests protected?
If you are a foreigner you have all the rights listed above.
In addition, if you do not speak English the authorities will endeavour to ensure that a translation or interpreter is provided where information is given to you if this is necessary, in particular when you are called to give evidence in court as a witness.
- Victim Charter: a charter for victims of crime
- A Guide to Northern Ireland’s Criminal Justice System for Victims and Witnesses of Crime – in English
- A Guide to Northern Ireland’s Criminal Justice System for bereaved families and friends following murder or manslaughter – in English
- Crime, justice and the law section of the NIDirect Website – in English
The national language version of this page is maintained by the respective Member State. The translations have been done by the European Commission service. Possible changes introduced in the original by the competent national authority may not be yet reflected in the translations. The European Commission accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to any information or data contained or referred to in this document. Please refer to the legal notice to see copyright rules for the Member State responsible for this page.