We know how overwhelming and frightening going to court can be. We’ve put together some information to help you understand what to expect.
These are some of the terms we will need to use to explain the court process:
- Defendant – a person who has been charged with a crime.
- Offender – a person who has admitted guilt or been found guilty by the court.
Support for victims and witnesses
If your case goes to court, the police will ask your permission to pass your details to us. We can support you before, during and after the trial. LVWS is available to:
- victims of crime
- witnesses to a crime
- family members or friends of someone who lost their life as a result of a crime.
We encourage you get support. We can help you to:
- understand what’s going to happen before, during and after the trial
- have someone to talk to before the trial and when you get to court
- find out what the court is like – someone can show you around the court before the trial
- access extra support if you’re struggling to cope.
Court trials don’t always go to plan, which can be frustrating. Victims and witnesses of crime have told us that it would be helpful to prepare for this before getting to court.
Your trial date could change
There are fewer court rooms than the number of trials booked. The courts work this way because trials often get cancelled at late notice. It means that your trial could be cancelled if there aren’t enough court rooms on the day.
Finding out that your trial has been delayed can be difficult to deal with. It’s helpful to be aware of this, especially if you’re feeling stressed about going to court.
Arrangements for the trial
If you’ve been asked to give evidence, someone from the police’s Witness Care Unit (WCU) will contact you. They make sure you’re prepared to give evidence and will:
- let you know where and when the trial will happen
- find out if you need extra support at court
- check if you need help with transport or childcare for the trial.
If a Family Liaison Officer has been allocated to your case, the above information will come from them. Likewise, if you’re dealing with a specialist officer, such as a SOIT for sexual offences, they’ll give you the information you need.
If you’re a family member or friend of someone who lost their life as a result of a crime, you can ask for a meeting to find out what could happen at the trial.
Avoiding contact with the defendant
You need to know that you will be in the court building at the same time as the defendant. They may also have family and friends with them, which can be intimidating for you as a victim or witness.
Ask the WCU before the trial day for advice on how to avoid contact with the defendant. A member of staff will explain the options to you, which could include:
- using a separate entrance
- waiting in a separate area of the court building.
Not all courts have the same options, so it’s best to find this out before you arrive.
Speaking publicly about the case
It’s important to consider very carefully whether to talk to the media about the case, or post publicly on social media. If anything you say could affect someone’s right to a fair trial, you could be held in contempt of court.
For example, you should not:
- say whether you think a person is guilty or innocent
- refer to someone’s previous convictions
- name someone the judge has allowed to be anonymous, even if you did not know this
- name victims, witnesses and offenders under 18
- name sex crime victims
- share any evidence or facts about a case that the judge has said cannot be made public.
What to expect when you get to court
Arriving at court
You will go through security. It’s a bit like what you would find at an airport. You will be asked to:
- empty your pockets into a tray
- take off your shoes, coat, gloves, hat and belt
- put any bags you have through a scanner
- walk through a detector or be checked with a handheld device.
There are certain things you’re not allowed to take it, such as:
- anything which court staff think could be used as a weapon
- blades – such as scissors, penknives and razors
- other sharp items – such as knitting needles and darts
- glass bottles or containers
- metal cutlery
- syringes (unless you have a prescription)
- toy guns and other things that look like guns
- tools – such as screwdrivers, hammers and nails
- ropes and chains
- liquids that are not drinks or prescription medicine – such as oils, perfumes lighter refills and cleaning products
- full-length umbrellas
- crash helmets
Food and drink
We recommend that you take food and drinks with you. It’s common to be waiting around for long periods of time and canteens can be expensive. It’s also possible that the defendant – or their friends and family – could be using the canteen.
If you’re a witness, you’re not allowed to watch the trial until you’ve given your evidence.
There are different ways the court can help you give evidence. These are called special measures and could include:
- Putting screens or curtains around you in the courtroom, so you can’t see the defendant.
- Allowing you to give evidence by live video link, so you don’t have to be in the courtroom at all.
- Recording your statement to be played in the courtroom.
- Asking members of the public to leave the courtroom while you give evidence.
- Getting you specialist help to understand the questions you’re being asked and give your answers.
Special measures could be made available if you:
- are the victim of a serious crime
- are under 18 years old
- have mental health issues
- lack the mental capacity needed to give evidence
- have a disability
- are a victim of repeated crime – for example harassment or stalking.
You should know that you will only need to give evidence if the defendant pleads not guilty. Sometimes, they will change their mind and choose to plead guilty at the last minute. If this happens, you will not be called to give evidence.
The outcome of the trial
After the evidence has been heard, in the magistrates’ court the judge or magistrates will decide whether the defendant is guilty or not. In a crown court this will be decided by the jury. This is called the verdict. If the defendant is found to be not guilty, they’ll walk free from the court. This can be distressing and difficult to deal with. We’re here to support you, help you to process this, and try to move forward.
If the defendant is found guilty, they’ll be sentenced. This doesn’t always happen on the day of the verdict. The Witness Care Unit or the investigating police officer will tell you the outcome of the trial within one working day of being informed by the court. If you want to go to court to watch the sentencing, you need to let the Witness Care Unit know.
If you’ve given evidence at a trial – you can claim expenses to cover travel, food and drink, childcare and loss of earnings. Court staff or someone from the Witness Service can help you claim expenses. It’s the Crown Prosecution Service’s responsibility to process and pay expenses.
We know that it can be difficult to move on after experiencing a crime. The impact of crime can last beyond the end of the trial. It’s important to know your rights and how to access support.
As a victim of crime, it’s your right to:
- be told about the outcome of the trial and the reasons for the decision
- be told what sentence was given if the defendant was found guilty
- be paid the expenses due to you by the Crown Prosecution Service
- be told if any appeal is made against the verdict or sentence
- join the Victim Contact Scheme (VCS) under certain circumstances.
Victim Contact Scheme
You can join the VCS if the crime you’ve experienced is sexual or violent; and the offender is sentenced to 12 months or more imprisonment.
Other types of eligible sentences have different release provisions which your Victim Liaison Officer will be able to explain.
If you decide to join, a Victim Liaison Officer will tell you:
- how long the offender will be in prison
- if the offender is in hospital (under Mental Health section)
- if there are any changes to the sentence
- when they’ll be released or discharged
- if the offender is up for parole and when the hearing will be scheduled
- how to make a victim statement at the parole hearing
- how to apply for a licence condition – offenders will be given licence conditions when they are released from prison, which could include not being able to contact you or visit a specific area.
If you decide not to join, you can change your mind later. Just email the VCS and explain that you would like to join the scheme. If you reside in London, you can contact the London Victim Contact Scheme.
If you’re a victim of crime and you give evidence in court, you will have rights under both the Victims’ Code and the Witness Charter.
If you have witnessed a crime and are asked to give evidence, the Witness Charter sets out how you can expect to be treated. The charter applies to all the different organisations involved in the criminal justice system.