How can I be involved in the trial?
If you are to give evidence in court as a witness for the prosecution, you will be sent a letter from the Procurator Fiscal. The letter (called a citation) will tell you where and when you should go to court. More information about the procedure is available here.
If you are not to be a witness in the case you may not be informed of the trial. If you want to find out the date of the trial you could contact the Court or the Procurator Fiscal office, although they will need the name of the accused to find this information. You should also quote the reference number from any correspondence you may have received.
Any member of the public can sit in the public gallery at the back of the courtroom and listen to the evidence.
You have the right to be present throughout court proceedings unless:
- it is held in private (e.g. a child or victim of an alleged sexual offence is giving their evidence); 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.
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 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.
All Sheriff and High Courts in Scotland have a Witness Service who can give you help and support if you are called as a witness to a crime. The Witness Service are specially trained volunteers and staff who are managed by Victim Support Scotland. The Witness Service exists to help people through the judicial process by providing practical and emotional support at court. You can contact the service at any time before, during or after attending court. Their helpline is 0845 60 39 213 or 0845 30 30 900. The Witness Service is based within the court building, so they will be there when you need help and assistance. The service is confidential and is free.
Further information is available at the Witnesses in Scotland website.
I am a minor. Do I have additional rights?
If you are a child under 16 years of age 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 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 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.
Can I receive legal aid?
You may be entitled to legal aid. If you want to apply for legal aid you should complete an application form for advice and assistance. Forms are available on the Scottish Legal Aid Board website.
How can I get protection, if I am in danger?
If you and anyone else with whom you have a close relationship feel you are in danger or being harassed, you should let the police know. If someone is charged with the crime and you are worried about the accused being released, you should tell the police officer you are dealing with, or the Procurator Fiscal, or your solicitor about any concerns as soon as possible.
How can I claim damages from the offender or receive compensation from the State?
Sometimes a court will award compensation to a victim of a crime for loss or injury resulting from the crime. The court will set an amount that takes account of the accused’s financial circumstances. The offender pays the money to the court, and the court then passes it on to the victim. If you are a victim of violent crime you may be eligible to apply for financial compensation from the State. Please consult the factsheet on compensation to victims of crime in Scotland (available in English and multiple other languages) of the European Judicial Network. For more information visit the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority website or you can call free on 0800 358 3601. Victim Support Scotland can provide information on compensation and how to apply for it. You may also be able to get information about compensation from other places, including your solicitor, or Citizens Advice Scotland.
Are there opportunities to reach settlement/conciliation or to start mediation between the offender and myself?
Some services are available which offer support to those affected by and those responsible for harm. These are based on restorative justice principles. The aim is to address behaviour in a way that empowers the people harmed, those responsible and wider community members to resolve issues in a constructive way.
More information is available here.
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 try 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.
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