Guide

Being a witness at court

Last updated: 6 June 2018

Giving evidence

When it's your turn to give evidence, a court official will call your name and show you to the witness box in the courtroom.

Your most important task as a witness is to tell the court the truth about what you know. All the people involved in bringing this case to court will understand that it may be a difficult time for you. If you've any concerns or fears about coming to court or giving evidence please talk to them. They're there to help you.

You must answer the questions truthfully – if you do not, you could face criminal charges.

The time it takes you to give your evidence depends on how much information you have to tell the court and how many questions you're asked.

In the courtroom

Before you give your evidence, you will be asked to either:

  • repeat a religious oath (the court will take into account your religious beliefs), or
  • agree that you promise to tell the truth (called an affirmation)

One by one, witnesses give their evidence by telling the court what may have happened or what they may know.

In most cases any member of the public can sit in the public gallery and listen to evidence being given – unless they're a witness and haven't given their own evidence yet.

The court might close to members of the public if there's a known risk of intimidation or a witness's evidence is likely to be distressing. This could include if the case is about a sexual offence.

Tell the police, a court official or whoever cited you right away about any intimidation before or during a court case.

Only certain people connected with the case can attend Children's Hearing court cases. Anyone else will only be admitted with the sheriff's permission.

The accused

To make sure justice is done, it's important for the accused person to be in court.

In some cases, you may need to identify the person you're being asked questions about. When giving your evidence you may be asked to look around the courtroom and point to the person if you see them.

If you're worried about this, speak to the person who cited you as a witness – this may be the Procurator Fiscal or a defence lawyer.

There is no accused in a Children's Hearing court case, but the child who is the subject of the case and their parents or carers may be present.

Sometimes the accused can ask questions in a court case, but not if:

  • the accused is charged with a crime involving a sexual offence
  • the court decides it's in the interest of a particularly vulnerable witness not to be asked questions by the accused

Examination and cross-examination

The defence lawyers – as well as the Procurator Fiscal or Children's Reporter – will have a copy of any statement you made to the police.

They'll also have a copy of your 'precognition statement', if you were asked to give one.

To help you give your evidence you'll be asked questions – this is also known as 'examination and cross-examination'. You'll be asked questions by:

  • the Procurator Fiscal, defence lawyers or the Children's Reporter (depending on what type of court case)
  • the judge or sheriff

They may ask you about:

  • something that may have happened to you or to someone else
  • something you may have seen or heard
You must answer the questions truthfully – if you do not, you could face criminal charges.

When giving your evidence:

  • listen carefully
  • say if you do not understand a question, do not know the answer or cannot remember
  • speak slowly and clearly
  • take your time to answer – and if you think someone in the court has not understood your answer, let them know.

Watch a guide to being a witness at court, which explains what to expect and what help and support is available to you.
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Being a witness at court
Giving evidence