Going to court as a witness if you're under 18
If you’ve seen a crime or been the victim of a crime, you might be asked to go to court to talk about it. This is called going to court as a witness.
Don’t worry - you’ll be able to get help and support. It’s important to remember you’re not in trouble.
Talking to the police
If you decide to report a crime you’ll need to tell a police officer about what happened. They’ll write down what you say or make a video of it - this is called a statement.
The police and other people involved in the case - for example the judge, will read your statement or watch your video. It might be used as evidence in court.
Your parents or whoever looks after you won’t usually be in the room with you when you make a statement. If you want to stop and see them, just ask the police officer.
What happens next
You’ll be told whether or not you need to go to court, usually by the police or a lawyer if you’re a witness for the defence.
If you do have to go to court, you might not even have to give evidence on the day. For example, this can happen if the person the police think did the crime admits it.
Get help if you need to go to court
If you have to go to court, you can get help from the Witness Service. They will help you throughout the process.
The police or the person who asked you to go to court can arrange for the Witness Service to help you. Let them know if you'd like help from the Witness Service.
Someone from the Witness Service will:
- come to your home, school or somewhere you feel safe to discuss what will happen in court
- answer any questions you have about the case
- support you in court on the day of the trial
The Witness Service will contact your parents or whoever looks after you before the trial.
Help you’ll get if you have to give evidence
The court will decide how you’ll give evidence but it’s important they know how you feel when they make their decision.
You can discuss the options for giving evidence with the person from the Witness Service who’s helping you. For example, you might want to:
- give your evidence in a special way in the courtroom - for example from behind a screen so you can’t see the person accused of the crime
- give evidence from outside the courtroom - for example by video link
- have the judge and lawyers wear normal clothes instead of their wigs and gowns
- have someone to sit next to you in court to help you understand any difficult words the judge or lawyers use
You can also ask to go into the court by a different entrance from the main one so you don’t see anyone involved in the case.
Things to do before the day of the trial
You can visit the court before the day of the trial. It’s a good idea to do this because it means you’ll know what to expect on the day. If you can’t visit a courtroom, ask the person from the Witness Service if you can see one before you give evidence on the day. If a courtroom isn’t free, they’ll show you a picture.
It can be quite a long time before you have to go to court to talk about what happened to you or what you saw. Don’t worry about forgetting what you said in your statement - you’ll be able to read your statement or watch your video recording before the trial.
What happens on the day of the trial
The person from the Witness Service will be there to meet you and support you through the day - they can also help your parents or whoever comes with you.
They’ll show you round the court and explain what will happen when you give your evidence.
The person helping you will also show you where you can wait - this will be away from other people involved in the trial. You might have to wait for a while before giving your evidence so it’s a good idea to bring something to read or a game to pass the time.
You can use your phone while you wait but you can’t use it to talk about the case - this includes on social media sites like Twitter and Snapchat.
What will happen in the courtroom
If you have to go into the courtroom to give evidence, you’ll stand in the witness box.
However you give your evidence, if you’re 14 or over you’ll have to promise to tell the truth before you answer questions about what happened. It’s against the law not to tell the truth when you give evidence.
The lawyers will then ask you questions about what happened while the judge or magistrates and other people in the court listen.
When the lawyers ask you questions you can:
- ask them to repeat a question or ask it in a different way
- say if you don’t know the answer
- ask them to explain any words you don’t understand
Sometimes the lawyers will suggest answers to their own questions - you don’t have to agree with them unless their suggestion is true.
Tell the judge or magistrates if you:
- make a mistake or get confused
- feel upset and want to stop
- need a drink of water
- need a break or to go to the toilet
The court wants to hear what happened in your own words so don’t be afraid to take your time.
After the trial
After you’ve answered all the questions in the courtroom you can go home.
If you want to find out what happens in the case, you can ask the police or the person who asked you to give evidence.
If you want to talk about your experience giving evidence, ask the person from the Witness Service.