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During the Trial
The Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, Victims Support and No Witness, No Justice provide service standards for witnesses which include the following:
- The court will provide separate waiting areas for defence and prosecution witnesses, or arrange for you to wait apart from the other side’s witnesses if there is not a separate area, if you request this.
- The aim is to make sure witnesses do not have to wait for more than two hours in the Crown Court, and for more than one hour in the Magistrates Court, before being called to give evidence.
- However, if delays occur, court staff or a representative of the Crown Prosecution Service will explain why there is a delay and tell you how long the wait is likely to be.
- While you are waiting to give evidence a representative of the Crown Prosecution Service (if you are a prosecution witness) or a defence advocate – (if you are a defence witness) will introduce himself or herself to you, wherever possible, to tell you what to expect and answer any queries about court procedure.
- You should be given the opportunity to refresh your memory by reading your own statement before you give evidence.
- The Crown Prosecution Service representative (for prosecution witnesses) or the defence advocate (for defence witnesses) will give you a form so you can claim expenses for the time you are at court to give evidence. These could include travel to the court, essential childcare or loss of earnings. The Crown Prosecution Service aims to pay expenses to prosecution witnesses where possible within five days but not later than ten working days from receipt of a correctly completed claim form. The court will pay expenses to defence witnesses within five working days from receiving your form.
- You should not be required to disclose your address in open court, unless it is necessary for evidential purposes.
- The court will allow you to take your oath on the holy book of your choice or to affirm, which means you do not use any holy book, before you give your evidence.
- Once you have finished giving evidence, the defence and prosecution should consider whether it is appropriate to make an application to the court for you to leave the court premises. You can observe the rest of the case from the public gallery if you wish.
- If you require an interpreter in order to give your evidence, the court will provide one who should speak your dialect and be familiar with the terms used in court proceedings.
- If you attend court but are then not called to give evidence, you should be invited into the courtroom so that the court can give you an explanation of why the trial has collapsed or why it is necessary to adjourn the case to a new trial date.
- If a hearing takes place and you are not required to give evidence, a representative of the defence or prosecution, as appropriate, should give you an explanation as quickly as possible.
- If a case is adjourned before you have given your evidence, the court should provide the defence or prosecution time to ascertain your availability so that the next date set is, as far as possible, convenient to you.
The Witness Service
The Witness Service, run by Victim Support, provides free and confidential support and practical information to witnesses, victims and their families before, during and after the hearing. Based in all Crown Courts and Magistrates Courts in England and Wales, the Witness Service offers:
- a visit to the court before the hearing;
- a quiet place to wait before and during the hearing;
- someone to go with you into the courtroom if you have to give evidence;
- to put you in touch with people who can answer specific questions about your case (although The Witness Service cannot discuss evidence or offer legal advice);
- a chance to talk over the case when it has ended and to get more help or information.
Vulnerable and Intimidated Witnesses
Under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, you may be eligible for one or more of the Act’s special measures to help you to give evidence if you are:
- under 17;
- have a learning disability, physical disability, or mental disorder that the court considers significant enough to affect the quality of your evidence; or
- are likely, because of your own circumstances and the circumstances relating to your case, to suffer fear or distress in giving evidence which is expected to affect its quality.
If you are a victim of a sexual offence you will be considered eligible unless you tell the court you do not want to be eligible.
The special measures include:
- the use of screens round the witness box so that you and the defendant cannot see each other;
- being asked questions through an intermediary;
- using aids to communication;
- barristers and judges removing their wigs and gowns;
- giving evidence from a separate room via a live TV link;
- giving evidence through an interview recorded on video before the trial;
- having cross-examination recorded on video before the trial.
Disclosure of Confidential Records
Under the Criminal Procedure (Attendance of Witnesses) Act 1965 courts can require confidential records to be disclosed in certain circumstances. The police, prosecutor, defence or the court may make requests for information to be obtained from third parties such as doctors or therapists. If this is withheld, they can apply to a court stating specifically what information they require, why they believe the doctor or therapist holds the information and why it is material to the case. If a court order is received a doctor or therapist can go to court and challenge this request. However if a witness summons is issued, they will have to comply. The British Medical Association’s and General Medical Council’s guidelines both state that doctors should only disclose patients’ records without their consent if required to do so by a court order and should inform their patient if they have done this.
Prosecutors are expected to intervene to object to any attempt by the defence to introduce irrelevant material into the proceedings and this would include sensitive material such as medical records. The Attorney General’s Guidelines on Disclosure of Information in Criminal Proceedings (issued in November 2000) state ‘ Fairness does, however, recognise that there are other interests that need to be protected, including those of victims and witnesses who might otherwise be exposed to harm.’