Guide

Being a witness at court

Last updated: 17 May 2018

Help and support

It's important to remember that you're doing an important job as a witness. There are people and support organisations that can give you help and support about the court process and giving evidence in court.

If you're worried about giving evidence, speak to the person who asked you to be a witness. There are things you can ask for to make being a witness easier, like:

  • using a different door to other people to go into court, so you don't have to see them
  • using a different waiting room before you go into court
  • having someone meet you at the door to the courtroom, so you don't have to be on your own
  • having breaks when you need to in court
  • going on a court familiarisation visit, so you know what to expect

Support for witnesses whose first language is not English

You may need an interpreter if English is not your first language. Even if you speak some English you may still have problems understanding all the words.

The person who cited you (the Procurator Fiscal, Children's Reporter or a defence lawyer) can arrange for you to get help from an interpreter.

Support for disabled or elderly witnesses

Most courts provide facilities for elderly and disabled witnesses, including:

  • wheelchair access
  • a loop system for people with hearing difficulties

If you have a disability or other needs, you should tell the person who cited you in advance.

This could be the Procurator Fiscal, Children's Reporter or defence lawyer. Arrangements can be made to help you with any accessibility needs you may have.

Other needs could include medical issues which may affect you giving evidence or which mean you need a private place to take medication.

Support for vulnerable witnesses - special measures

Some witnesses may find it difficult to give evidence. They may be particularly vulnerable because of their circumstances or the nature of their evidence.

The court can take extra steps (called 'special measures') to help vulnerable witnesses give the best evidence they can.

You're automatically entitled to use certain special measures (this means the court must allow you to use them) if:

The special measures you're automatically entitled to use are:

  • a screen in the courtroom
  • a TV link to somewhere outside the courtroom
  • a supporter who can sit with you while you give evidence

You'll be asked which of these special measures you'd prefer to use. Other special measures (such as asking for the court to be closed to the public) are available too, but only if you apply to the court (the person who asked you to be a witness will apply on your behalf).

You also have the right to apply to use special measures (this means the person who asked you to be witness will need to ask the court if you can use them) if:

  • the quality of your evidence might be affected because you have a mental illness or you find giving evidence stressful
  • you're at risk of harm because you're giving evidence or are to give evidence

Applying to use special measures

Applications can be made if you – or the person who cited you – believe you are a vulnerable witness and should use special measures to help you give your evidence.

If you think you should use special measures to give evidence, speak to the person who cited you. This may be the Procurator Fiscal, Children's Reporter or a defence lawyer. You should also let them know if your circumstances change or you change your mind.

They'll discuss your situation with you and, if appropriate, they'll apply to the court for you to use special measures.

The court considers your views along with any information in the application, before deciding if you should use special measures to give evidence.

You can also speak to the Witness Service or the Victim Information and Advice (VIA) service if you want to use special measures to give evidence.

Types of special measures

Using a screen

A screen or curtains stop you from having to see the accused or someone else involved with the case.

The rest of the court will still be able to see you on a TV when you give your evidence.

You'll be in a different room from the courtroom (called a 'TV link room'). The TV is linked to the courtroom so everyone inside – including the accused or other people involved in the case – can see and hear you give evidence.

You'll only be able to see and hear the person asking you questions. All cameras are controlled by the judge or sheriff.

Using a supporter

A supporter is someone who stays with you when you give your evidence. They can be:

  • someone you know
  • a person from a support organisation
  • a person from the social work department

A supporter cannot help you give evidence, or interfere or influence your evidence in any way.

You can say who you would like as a supporter, but the final decision will be made by the court.

Using a prior statement

In criminal cases, this is an interview or a statement which was taken beforehand, which could be:

  • a video or audio taped interview between you and the police
  • a written statement that's played or read out

You'll be asked questions about what you said by the person who cited you – this may be the Procurator Fiscal, Children's Reporter or a defence lawyer.

Using evidence taken by a commissioner

Sometimes it's possible for you to give your evidence at a different time or place than the actual court case. This happens if the quality of your evidence might be affected by waiting until the court date to give evidence.

The court will nominate someone to act as the commissioner (the person who will hear your evidence) – this is usually somebody like a judge. You'll be asked questions in the usual way.

The accused or relevant person involved in the case is entitled to see and hear your evidence. They will not normally be in the same room as you.

The commissioner will record your evidence, which will be played during the trial or court hearing. This will be regarded as your evidence and you won't normally have to give any evidence during the court case.

Read more about what types of special measures can be used in criminal and children's hearing court cases and civil court cases.

Closed courts

A closed court means members of the public will not be allowed in the courtroom.

The public are not allowed into most Children's Hearing court cases unless the sheriff permits it.

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Being a witness at court
Help and support