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It’s illegal for anyone to threaten or intimidate a witness. Contact the police as soon as possible.

Witness Support for Children

Drawing of court building

If you've been asked to be a witness and know something important, then check out this page. It tells you what you need to know and will answer some of your questions including:

  • Being a witness
  • Going to court
  • Giving evidence
  • Who can help you

Being a witness

What is a witness?

A witness is someone who knows something important.

Maybe you saw or heard something, or something happened to you. Maybe some other people have already had a chat with you (a children's reporter, a lawyer, social worker or the police) and you've told them what you know.

But it's okay. What you do now is tell the people in the court what you know. This is called being a witness.

Some kids don't know much about being a witness or going to court. Don't worry.

Going to court

What is a court?

A court is a place where a judge works. The judge is in charge of the court and their job is to listen to what you say. In some courts the judge is called a sheriff.

The court has to decide if something has happened, or if someone has done something wrong and broken the law. It is wrong to break the law.

Most courts are buildings with more than one room inside. The most important room is the courtroom.

What happens before I go to court?

You may have had a chat with the children's reporter or a lawyer about being a witness. The children's reporter or lawyer may have a chat with you and ask you questions before you go to court. There may be more than one lawyer who wants to ask you things.

The lawyer or children's reporter will try to answer all the stuff you might want to ask.

Visiting the court

You might not have been to a court before. But don't worry. You can visit the court or the place where you are going to be a witness. Tell the person, who asked you to be a witness that you want to visit the court and have a look around. This person can contact the court Witness Service who will arrange this to suit you.

You can go with someone you know. Maybe someone from your family or someone else, like your social worker.

If you're going to be a witness in criminal proceedings, someone at the Witness Service will be there to show you around and help you. You can see where you will sit and see the special television and screen. You can practise being a judge or sheriff!

Waiting to be a witness

Waiting to be a witness can take a long time. There are a lot of people in the courts doing the same thing. It can get a bit boring. Ask the person who is coming with you to bring you something to eat and drink. Sometimes you may have to go home and come back another day. If possible take some books, toys or games to pass the time.

  • You can ask for help when you are a witness
  • It's ok to put your hand up and say "excuse me"
  • You might need to stop for a break
  • You might want a glass of water or to go to the toilet
  • If you feel unwell or tired, the judge or sheriff, children's reporter and lawyers will understand
  • Everyone will try to help you

Who is in the courtroom?

The judge and the lawyers are always in the courtroom. Their job is to make sure everything is fair. Judges have other people to help them, so don't be scared if you see other people in the court.

Giving evidence

When you tell the court what you know, this is called giving evidence.

There are people who can help you, such as the children's reporter, lawyer, social worker, Victim Information and Advice (VIA) or Witness Service who can all tell you about support that may be available when being a witness.

Telling the court what you know

The people in the court don't know what happened. You need to help them by telling the court what you know. It is very important to tell the truth about everything.

The court wants to hear what you have to say. Nobody should tell you what to say. But don't be upset if you don't know the answer.

Things to think about when someone asks you something:

  • Listen carefully to all the questions.
  • Try to answer the questions.
  • Remember to speak clearly and loudly but don't shout.
  • The lawyers will ask you questions. If you don't understand a word or a question, it's ok to say: "I don't understand".
  • You can put your hand up and say "excuse me", just like you do at school.
  • You can ask them to use smaller words.
  • It is important that you don't guess about something.
  • If you do not know the answer or can't remember, it's ok to say so

Seeing the person in the courtroom

Maybe you've already shown the police the person you have told them about. If you did, you may not need to do it again. But maybe the lawyer at the court will ask if you can see the person.

If you are asked, you should look around carefully. If you see the person you should point to them. If you don't see the person, you can say: "I can't see them".

If you are worried about seeing the person in court, you should tell someone who can help you.

Using a special television

Viewing the Court on a TVYou can be a witness by using a special television without going into the courtroom. This can help you if you are not sure about going into a courtroom full of people.

You can use this television – which looks like the TV you probably have at home – to speak to the judge or sheriff, the children's reporter and lawyers. The television room might be in the same building as the courtroom. Sometimes you won't have to come into the court building at all. The television room might be in another building away from the court.

Find out what happens on the special television:

  • When the television is turned on, the people in the courtroom can see and hear you.
  • You will be able to see the person asking you the questions on the television screen.
  • You should tell the judge or sheriff if you can't hear the questions properly or if there is another problem.

Using a portable wall as a screen in the courtroom

You might want to go into the courtroom but you might be worried about seeing someone in the courtroom.

A screen, a bit like a wall, can be put up in the courtroom so you don't have to look at that person. The screen hides part of the court. You will still be able to see the judge or sheriff, the children's reporter and lawyers and their helpers.

Using a person to support you in the courtroom

You can also have a grown-up person with you the whole time even when you are speaking to the judge, sheriff, the children's reporter or lawyers.

This person is called a support person or a supporter, and is usually someone from the Witness Service, but can be someone else if this is agreed by the court.

Other things that might help you

Remember there are people who can help you, such as the children's reporter, lawyer, social worker, Victim Information and Advice (VIA) or Witness Service

Things that might help

  • A video or a tape may be played in the courtroom. Or the police notes might be read out. If that happens, you might be asked to watch or listen. Then you might be asked questions about what you said.
  • The judge and lawyers usually wear wigs and gowns in court, like a uniform. Ask someone about this. If you do not want them to wear their wigs and gowns, tell someone.
  • In many cases, the people in court will agree not to wear their wigs and gowns when children are giving their evidence.

Your job as a witness

Your job is to tell the people at court what you know.

Everyone knows and understands it can sometimes be hard. The judge and lawyers will understand if you are a bit worried. They know you are there to help them. And they will help you.

You will be asked questions.

You should tell the sheriff or judge, and the lawyers everything you know. It's ok to tell them even if some things are difficult to talk about. It's ok to tell them a secret, as long as it's true. You should not be scared to tell the truth.

What happens when you're finished?

After all the questions have been asked, and after you have told the court what you know, you will be finished. You will have done a very important job. You can leave court when you are finished giving your evidence and do not need to wait until it is finished. Someone will contact you later and tell you what happened at the end of the case.

Well done! Thank you for being a witness.

Additional information

Leaflets and booklets specifically for children are available to download: Witness Support downloads for Children

 

 

 

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