Being a witness in a criminal trial

What is a witness?

A witness is a person who gives evidence usually in court regarding a crime that has occurred.  Witnesses play a very vital role in helping the police to deliver justice and solve crimes. Without witnesses, the criminal justice system would not work.

You may be asked to give evidence as a witness in the following situations:

  • If you know something about a crime or incident
  • If you were the victim of a crime
  • If you are an expert witness which means you have specialist knowledge of a subject
  • If you know one of the people that were involved in a case – in this instance you might be called upon as a character witness

Many people feel nervous and anxious about coming forward with their evidence or giving it in court.  The Witness Charter is something that helps most witnesses.

The Witness Charter

The Witness Charter is a commitment from the criminal justice system and it basically aims to provide a high standard of service to witnesses throughout their experience with the Criminal Justice System.

For intimidated and vulnerable witnesses, an enhanced service is provided.

The Witness Charter is something that can help many first time witnesses or simply any witness who is feeling nervous or unsure about giving their evidence.

What happens after I report a crime or tell the police my evidence? 

After you have reported a crime or told the police something you know which is relevant to a crime or incident a police investigation will commence.

This is something which may take several months so it is highly likely that it may be some time before you hear anything further about the case.

The information that the police have is used to try and catch the offender.


What powers the police have depends entirely on whether the committed offence carries the power of arrest.

Less serious offences mean that the accused will not be arrested but will be summoned to attend court.

The Case – what happens next?

Once the police have finished their investigations you will be informed of a trial date and which court you are to attend.

If you are a prosecution witness then you will receive a “witness warning letter” and if you are a defence witness the defence lawyer will contact you.

The court has the power to issue a witness summons – this mean that you will have to attend court unless you have already been excused due to illness or other serious reasons.

You should inform the person who asked you to come to court if:

  • You have any disabilities or special needs
  • You need an interpreter
  • You would like to visit the court on a day before the trial commences

Going to court

When you arrive at the court you need to report to the reception desk and give the name of the defendant (all cases will be listed under the defendant’s name) and the letter asking you to attend court.

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For more information on:

  • Giving your evidence
  • Sentencing