Do I have to appear as a witness in court for a criminal trial?

Do I have to go to court?

If you are requested to go to court and give evidence in a trial you will receive a document called a subpoena.

What is a subpoena?

A subpoena is an official document which tells you that you must  go to court to give evidence in a particular trial or possibly that you may have to take certain documents to the court. It may be the case that you are requested to do both.

Is it illegal not to turn up at court after or provide documents if I have received a subpoena?

If the subpoena states that you must go to court and give evidence or provide required documents and you fail to appear, then the courts are able to issue a warrant to arrest you and bring you to the court room

If the subpoena instructs you to bring the required documents to the court room and you fail to take them , then the courts will once again have the power to issue a warrant for your arrest and bring you to the courts along with the required documentation.

It is extremely important that you read the subpoena you receive very carefully. This will state exactly what the procedures will be if you fail to do what is required of you.

What happens before I go to court?

After you have received your court date there may be many unanswered questions. How can i take time off work? Who will look after my children?

Don’t panic, the Witness Care Unit will contact you to discuss any questions or needs you may have. You can discuss any worries with this organisation and they will provide you with all the answers you need.

Claiming any expenses incurred as a result of being a witness

If you have to take any time off work, and may possibly have to pay for child care the Witness Care Unit will explain your options. It is usually the case that expenses for attending court will be paid following the trial. If you need help prior to the trial the Witness Care Unit will try and accommodate as best as they can.

Reviewing your statement

It is very possible that you have not seen your written statement or video statement since you gave it to the police after the incident in question. This may have been a long time ago and many details may have been forgotten. You should be given the choice to see it again prior to giving evidence in court. These should re-fresh your memory and allow you to give the best evidence possible. If you are not giving the chance then speak to the Crown Prosecution service and request that you see them again.

What court do I have to attend?

You will receive a letter from the Witness Care Unit that will state the date and time of the trial you are required to attend and also which Court the trial will take place at.

Can I visit the court room before I appear as a witness?

The Witness Care Unit will give you any details you need if you wish to visit the court prior to being a witness. If you have any worries about the surroundings and being in the ‘spotlight’ as a key witness then a visit to the court before the trial may settle your nerves and allow you to get used to the environment before you stand as a witness.

What is the Witness service?

The Witness Service is a part of victim support, an independent registered charity base at the courts. Even though they are based in court they are independent from them, offering free confidential advice and support in relation to any questions you may have regarding the trial day. They (and similar groups) will be on hand to answer any questions or queries you are concerned about and will provide personal support, possible even being allowed in to the court room with you on the day of the trial.

Worried about seeing other witnesses or the defendant?

If you are really worried about seeing the defendant or other possible witnesses you need to let someone know. They may be able to make alternative arrangements from you appearing in the court room or possibly position you in the court room in a certain way.

Going into the courtroom

Before entering the courtroom, the usher will give you the choice as to whether you would prefer to repeat the oath after the usher has read it out in court or whether you would prefer to read the oath straight from the card on which it is written.

When the court is ready for you to give evidence the usher of the court will show you into the courtroom and take you directly to the witness box. You will be asked to stand and then you will be required to take an oath. It may be the case that you may be asked to stand whilst giving your evidence. If you have any problems for whatever reason or you need to take regular breaks may be to take regulated medication for example, you need to tell the usher of the court before you enter the court room and give evidence.

Taking the Oath

After you are taken to the witness box the usher will present you with the religious book you have selected before hand in order to take the oath. When you take the oath on the Holy book you have chosen. When you agree to take the oath, you are making a promise in front of the court “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth”.