Providing free confidential, practical and emotional support and information to anyone affected by crime.

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Are you a witness and being threatened?

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


When you are required to attend court as a witness you may not know what to expect and there will be many things you don’t know. The following is a list of frequently asked questions which is hoped may help you gain a better understanding of the process and allow you to cope with what can be a traumatic and worrying experience.

If you have a specific question that is not answered below, please contact your local Witness Service office at Ayr or Kilmarnock. If you are unsure of any of the legal words please refer to our Glossary page on the website. A separate page with Frequently Asked Questions relating to victim support is available at Victim Service FAQs.

I have been asked to give evidence, what does this mean?

As a witness you play an essential part in a trial by attending court and letting the court know what you saw or heard.

Do I have to turn up at court if I get a citation?

Yes. As stated on the citation, if you fail to appear, a warrant may be taken out for your arrest. If you know beforehand that you cannot appear on the trial date i.e. due to a booked holiday or important medical appointment, please let the Procurator Fiscal's Office (or defence agent if you are a defence witness) know as soon as possible. They will decide if you can be excused from giving evidence.

Do I have to give a precognition statement?

Yes, both the Procurator Fiscal and defence lawyer may ask for a 'precognition statement' prior to the trial. You are required to give such a statement but at your own convenience (in some cases it can be taken over the phone). If you refuse to give such a statement, the Procurator Fiscal or defence agent are entitled to request you give such a statement under oath in the court before the trial.

How long will I be at court?

There is no way of knowing how long you will have to wait. You may be at court a long time, even all day. With this in mind, you may want to bring a book, magazine or tablet (ipad or Kindle etc), to help pass the time. Very occasionally you may have to return the following day. If you attend for a High Court or Sheriff and Jury trial you may be required to attend over several days.

Do I need to take a full day off work?

There is no way of knowing how long you will be at court or when you will be called to give your evidence, so it is always a good idea to leave the whole day free.

What if I am on medication?

Please bring any medication to court with you, if you need to take it during the day. If you have any medical issues, which may affect you giving evidence, please let the Witness Service or court officer know as soon as you arrive at court and the information will be passed to the appropriate people.

What if I have additional or other requirements?

Please try to inform the Procurator Fiscal or defence agent before the trial date. The Witness Service or a court officer may be able to assist on the day.

What about parking?

Please ensure that your car is parked in an area for free or long-term parking. You may be in court longer than anticipated and you may not be able to leave to top up your parking charges. Please note parking charges are not included in expenses. (Parking information is also available on our court information page).

Can a family member/friend sit with me in the waiting room?

Yes, as long as there is sufficient space in the witness rooms. Please inform the Witness Service or court officer that you are being accompanied when checking in.

Will there be toilet facilities available to me?

Most courts have toilets adjacent to the witness waiting rooms. Please check with your local Witness Service office if you require further details.

What do I do if I need the toilet while giving my evidence?

If you feel you need the toilet, feel unwell or have any other issue while giving evidence, please inform the judge/sheriff or justice of the peace, who will be understanding of any genuine problem.

Can I take something to drink with me when I go into the court to give my evidence?

No, but fresh water is available at the witness box.

Can I go for a cigarette while I am waiting?

There is a general no smoking policy for all Scottish courts, however Ayr and Kilmarnock courts will allow you to leave the waiting room for such purposes, but you must always ask for permission before doing so. Please check with your local Witness Service office for further details.

Can I go for tea/coffee and take it into the waiting room?

There is a small tea bar at Ayr court and a tea bar with limited seating area at Kilmarnock court. Both operate set hours so please check opening times on your arrival. You will be able to take tea and coffee into the waiting rooms but not into the courtroom.

What if I am intimidated or threatened by anyone involved in the case at any time?

Intimidation of witnesses is a very serious offence, please inform police of any threats made. Please remember, by prior arrangement, victims and witnesses may be able to enter/leave by a side/rear door and sit in a separate waiting area if appropriate.

Do I have to sit with other witnesses?

Innormal circumstances, yes, but if there is a problem we can arrange the use of a room away from other witnesses, space permitting.

As a prosecution witness, will I need a lawyer?

No, the Procurator Fiscal acts for the prosecution (the Crown) in the public interest therefore you will not require a lawyer. Defence witnesses are cited by the accused's lawyer and do not require a lawyer of their own.

Do I have to take the oath?

No. If you do not wish to swear to God, you may prefer to affirm, in that you swear to tell the truth without any religious reference. If you wish to affirm please let the Witness Service or court officer know when you arrive and they will let the court know.

Does my address need to be read out in court?

Not unless the address is the scene of the crime, when it may need to be read out.  Normally your address will be given as care of the police. If you have any concerns please let the Witness Service or court officer know in advance.

Do I need to stand to give my evidence?

In most cases you must stand to give your evidence. If you have a medical condition or some other valid reason that would make giving your evidence uncomfortable by standing, then you may be allowed to sit. Please advise the Witness Service or a court officer on your arrival if you wish to request to be seated while giving your evidence.

Will the accused be in the courtroom?

The accused has the right to be in the court to hear all the evidence against him/her/them. As part of your evidence you could be asked to look round the courtroom to identify him/her/them.

How do I address the Sheriff/Judge?

For a maleSheriff/Judge it should be 'my lord' or 'sir' and for a female Sheriff/Judge it should be 'my lady' or 'ma'am'.

How do I address the Justice of the Peace?

For both male and female it should be 'Your honour'.

If, when being questioned, I don't know something or can't remember, what do I say?

Just say 'I don't know' or 'I can't remember'.

Can I go back into the witness waiting room after finishing my evidence?

No, you may remain in court to hear the rest of the trial, remain within the court building or leave the court entirely, but you cannot return to the witness waiting room. If you have an issue and wish to wait until the end of the trial, please contact the Witness Service who may be able to arrange a suitable place.

Do I have to wait for the verdict/outcome?

No, the judge/sheriff will inform you when you are free to go. If you wish to know the result you can contact the local Sheriff Clerk's/Procurator Fiscal's office the following day.

How do I claim expenses?

An expenses claim form can be found on the back of the witness citation, which must be stamped by court staff and then handed in or posted to the Procurator Fiscal's office for payment. This should be done as soon as possible but not necessarily on the day of the trial.

If you are a defence witness you can claim from the defence lawyer who cited you, who will give the necessary information.

If the trial goes on into the afternoon, will I get lunch expenses?

Yes. Keep receipts and attach them to your citation/expenses claim form before handing in or posting to the Procurator Fiscal's office. (In the case of defence witnesses, to the appropriate lawyer who asked you to attend).  You will be reimbursed, but please be aware there is a maximum amount that will be paid.

Can I stay in the court building over lunchtime?

There are no catering facilities at Ayr court.  Kilmarnock court has a small seating area and tea bar from where light lunches and sandwiches are available.Please check local arrangements before attending.

What if I can't afford expenses up front?

In some cases the Procurator Fiscal (or defence agent) may issue travel vouchers in advance - please contact the appropriate office direct.  If you have to travel a long distance to get to the court, they may also be able to arrange travel tickets for you.

Can I bring my children with me?

Courts do not have childcare facilities, so unless the child is a witness please try to arrange childcare cover. You may be able to claim back a limited amount of childcare expenses through the Procurator Fiscal's office, but contact them in advance of your court attendance.

Are children allowed in the courtroom?

Children who are 14 years of age and over are allowed to sit in the public gallery of the court, but children under 14 years of age must get express permission from the court to sit in on any proceedings and should be accompanied/supervised at all times.

Are there facilities in the court for the hard of hearing?

Both Ayr and Kilmarnock courts have a 'loop' system which can be used but please contact the appropriate court to find out what is available to you before you attend for trial or as soon as you arrive at court.

English is not my first language. Can I speak in my native tongue?

Interpreters can be arranged if English is not your first language. This will be arranged by the Procurator Fiscal if you are a prosecution witness and by the defence agent if you are a defence witness.

Can I see my statement?

You cannot see your statement if you are giving evidence in a summary case and a child under 16 years of age cannot see their statement, but in a solemn case, with authorisation from the Procurator Fiscal, an adult witness may be able to see their statement.

What if I am unwell?

You need to inform the Procurator Fiscal in advance and supply a medical certificate and/or a letter from your doctor explaining that you are unwell. This is sometimes called a "soul and conscience" letter.

What happens if I cannot attend because I'm on holiday?

You should send or email copies of any booking confirmation and details of the case you are involved in to the procurator fiscal.

Can I breastfeed in court?

Yes, facilities can be made available to you. In Scotland, it is an offence to stop anyone breastfeeding in a public place or public building.

How should I dress to come to court?

You should wear clothes that are comfortable. Most witnesses dress smartly. Do not turn up wearing football colours or clothing that may be deemed offensive to other court users.

How do I get back property taken during the investigation

Property is returned by the police once the case is finished and the appeal period has passed, which is usually around six to eight weeks.

How do I change my contact details?

You should write or email the procurator fiscal/defence agent, quoting the reference number of the case you are involved in.

Are courts always open to the public

All courts are public buildings, and almost every court hearing will be open to anyone, on the principle that justice should be seen to be done. In a "closed court", the public is excluded. There are limited circumstances in which this may occur. It may be in order to protect vulnerable witnesses (such as where a child or the complainer of a sexual offence is giving evidence), or to ensure confidential information does not become public.

Can the media attend every court case?

The media is not usually excluded from court, even if the courtroom is closed to others. However, publication of material may be restricted in certain cases and breach of such restrictions would be considered as contempt of court. Restrictions will only be imposed when it is absolutely necessary, for example, to ensure that a case or future proceedings are not prejudiced in any way by the publication of certain information. In cases of a sexual nature, eg rape, the media will not identify the victim/witness though occasionally that person may decide to waive his or her right to anonymity.

Can I take photographs within the court?

Photography, filming and audio recording are not permitted in court without prior approval, including the consent of the judge and all parties to the case. The media may obtain permission if it is felt to be in the public interest.

Do all judges and sheriffs wear robes and wigs

Court dress is determined by tradition, and has evolved over the centuries.  In the High Court judges wear a white robe with red crosses on it.  In the Court of Session judges wear a crimson robe with darker red crosses on it.

Sheriffs wear a black gown depending on their status before appointment.  A sheriff who is a Queen's Counsel wears a silk gown; a sheriff who was an advocate or solicitor wears a "stuff" gown.

Wigs are normally worn throughout the process.

Robes are not usually worn in Justice of the Peace and Stipendiary Magistrate courts.  It may also be agreed to dispense with court dress in proceedings involving children, or in particularly hot weather

Do judges/sheriffs choose their cases at random?

Cases are primarily allocated based on a judge's availability. The specialisations and expertise of individual judges/sheriffs may also be a factor, such as in commercial matters, or intellectual property cases. A judge/sheriff will decline to hear a case where he or she has a pecuniary interest or, for example, is a friend of a party or a witness.

What happens if I am late for court or break any of the court rules?

If you are going to be late for a court appearance, telephone the court, or your legal representative if you have one. Depending on the circumstances, there could be a penalty. A person who misses a court appearance, whether as a witness or an accused may have a warrant issued for his or her arrest.

Misbehaviour in court is likely to result in a warning or reprimand from the judge/sheriff. A more serious breach of court protocol may amount to the offence of contempt of court, which can be punished by a fine or even imprisonment.

If, after being found guilty, the accused is placed on deferred sentence will any bail conditions that were in place still be valid?

Normally this is correct but this should be confirmed by contacting the PF or Sheriff Clerk's office.

If my answer to a question involves swear words or some other offensive words or remarks, will I be allowed to write my answer rather than for me to speak the actual words?

In most cases you will be asked to speak the actual words. In extreme cases you may, with permission of the court, be allowed to write your answer, but this is very unlikely.

If both my partner and I are witnesses and only one of us has given evidence before lunch, will we be able to go for lunch together?

In most cases you will be able to go for lunch together but the witness who has given evidence will be warned by the court not to discuss the case. There may be occasions when, due to court issues, you should not lunch together. Be guided by the court information given to you at the time.

I have taken photographs of my injuries on my mobile telephone. Can I show the photographs when I attend court to give evidence?

No, all evidence must be prepared by the PF and agreed by all parties in advance of the trial.  If you have photographs which you think may be helpful during a trial please hand them to the PF as far in advance of any trial as you can.



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