Inbrief: Free Legal Information

 

Home   About   Advertising  Contributors 

 
   

Search In Brief

Over a thousand pages of free legal information written by our selected team of legal experts

 
 

  Browse Legal Topics     Ask a Solicitor Online

 

   
       

Court Proceedings

Background

Summary Trial Procedure

Turnbull Guidelines

Voluntary Bills of Indictment

Indictments

Canon Law in Criminal System

Statement of Case

Judge Only Trials

Court Case

Bail

Courts Power

Court Powers to Seize Assets

Seizure of Criminal Assets

Proceeds of Crimes

Evidence in Court

Evidence

Expert Evidence

Hearsay Evidence in Criminal Cases

DNA Use in Criminal Cases

Computer Evidence

Evidence of Bad Character as Admissible Evidence

Identification Evidence and Procedure

Corroboration

Illegally Obtained Evidence

Proving Intention to Commit a Crime

Prosecution Duty if Disclosure

Defence

Automation as a Criminal Defence

Defence Case Statements

Defence of Duress

Insanity as a Criminal Defence

Diminished Responsibility in Criminal Law

Provocation and Criminal Law

Provocation as a Criminal Defence

Infanticide and Criminal Law

Plea Bargaining

No Case to Answer

Witnesses

Appearing as a Witness

Subpoenaing a Witness

Being a Witness in a Criminal Trial

Child Witness

Expert Witnesses

Pre-trial Witness Interviews

Witness at Criminal Trials

Witness Summons

Collateral Finality Rule

Cross Examination

Right to a Fair Trial

Remand In Custody While Awaiting Trial

Right to Remain Silent in Criminal Proceedings

British Age of Criminal Responsibility

Protection for Suspects

Young Offenders

Victims of Crime Rights

Anonymity in Rape Cases

Personal Self Defence

 

What is a Witness

A witness is an individual who has seen a crime being committed and can as a result give evidence in court if the accused is prosecuted and the case eventually goes to court.

Who is considered able to give evidence

Under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act (YJCEA) 1999 s.53 (1), all persons are competent to give evidence at any stage of the trial unless:

The above exceptions apply to all witnesses but most commonly affect children, persons of unsound mind and, the defendant himself. Children and individuals of unsound mind are subject to be tested to ascertain their competence if their testimony is necessary. It is important to note that, as a rule, the accused will always be deemed incompetent as a witness for the prosecution.

Can a person be forced to give evidence

A person can be compelled (forced) to give attend court and give evidence if they have been deemed competent to do so. The exceptions to this rule are the accused himself, the accusedís spouse and other individuals who are not deemed competent to give evidence.

The accusedís spouse can only be compelled to give evidence against him on the Prosecutionís behalf in limited circumstances, as follows:

If the accused is not being charged in relation to any of the above circumstances then the accusedís spouse is only compellable to give evidence on behalf of the accused and not against him. It is to be noted that cohabitees and former spouses are compellable if they are competent as the rules applicable to spouses to do not apply.

What happens if a compellable witness refuses to give evidence

In the circumstances where either party to the proceedings believes that a witness may not attend court voluntarily, they can apply for a witness summons to be issued (an order issued to a person outlining the specific date for their appearance in court). A witness summons can take 2 forms namely, a witness summons requiring a person to give evidence and a witness summons requiring a person to produce documents that are needed as evidence. If a witness fails to attend court or give evidence or produce the required documents, they can be punished for contempt of court. The punishment can take the form of a prison sentence of up to 3 months duration and/or a fine of up to £2500.

What if a witness is too frightened to give evidence or has been intimidated

In the event that a witness feels too frightened or distressed to give evidence, special measures may be taken. An order called a special measures direction may be made by the court following either an application by either party to the proceedings or by the judgeís own volition. In order for a special measure direction to be made, the court must be satisfied that the quality of the witnessí evidence may be lessened by their fear and distress (YJCEA 1999 s.17 (1)). There are a number of factors that a court must take into account when deciding whether to make a special measures direction relating to fear, these are:

If a witness has been intimidated in connection with giving testimony in legal proceedings or an investigation, the person who has intimidated them may be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice as well as for contempt of court. A judge also has discretion to determine the matter without it having to go to the Crown Prosecution Service. If found guilty, a person who intimidates a witness faces up to 5 years imprisonment and/or a fine. In the event that a witness has already given evidence and they are then retaliated against, the individual who retaliates against them can also be punished for contempt of court.

What protection can witnesses be given

A witnessí details will never be given to the defendant or his legal representative and details such as addresses will not be mentioned out loud in court. If a witness feels threatened at any point they should tell their witness care officer or, if they feel seriously threatened, ring 999 for immediate assistance. While in court, witnesses are given separate waiting areas where possible. In special cases a witness may be relocated to a house in another area to ensure their safety; this is arranged by the police. 

When a criminal is released from prison, in very serious cases, a witness will continue to be protected. They will be told when the offender is about to be set free and can liaise with a specially allocated victim liaison officer who, in certain circumstances, will arrange for an injunction (legal order forbidding a person to come within a certain distance of another named individual) to be made in order to ensure the offender stays away from the former witness.

Still have unanswered questions?

Ask your legal question using the box below and have a response from solicitor or barrister within minutes.