If you're called as a witness
Witnesses can have a long wait at court so it's a good idea to take something with you to keep you entertained
If you've been a victim of crime or a witness to an incident, you might be asked to give evidence in court.
When someone is charged with a crime that you've witnessed the police will pass your file to the local Witness Care Unit. There are units across England and Wales, run jointly by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. They act as a single point of contact for all witnesses and the criminal justice system.
The unit will allocate a witness care officer to you and that will be the person you should deal with until the trial is over. It is their job to keep you informed about how the case is progressing right up to the point of sentencing. The witness care officer is also the person who will let you know if you have to attend court to give evidence. They should tell you the time and place of the trial and discuss any particular help or support needs you might have.
If you've given a statement to the police and haven't then heard from the witness care unit, let the police know. And if you can't go to court on the date or at the time of the trial - perhaps you can't get time off work, get ill or are going on holiday - you should tell the witness care unit immediately.
Extra help at court
If you think you need extra help at court to give your evidence - such as help with a disability, an interpreter or support with any other special needs - you should discuss this with the witness care unit beforehand. You can also get in touch with our Witness Service ahead of the trial and we can alert the court to prepare for helping you on the day. This can include special measures, which are facilities - such as screens or video links - that can make it easier for you to give evidence in safety and comfort.
Find out more about what to expect at court
You can get information about courts and the facilities they have from Her Majesty’s Courts Service through their online court finder.
Our Witness Service can also arrange for you to visit the court before the trial starts, to see what it is like and find out what you can expect to happen on the day of the trial. A lot of people find that this helps give them confidence before they testify. There are also plenty of online resources to give you information about court (see the links on the right) as well as an online video for witnesses produced by the Ministry of Justice. And if the trial is taking place at the Crown Court, the Customer Service Officer will be able to give you information and help make preparations for your visit.
Everyone who is called as a witness should automatically be sent a Home Office Witness in court leaflet. We've also produced our own Going to court leaflet.
The government has also produced a Witness charter which sets out the basic standards of service you can expect from the criminal justice system if you are called as a witness.
On the day of the trial
Before you set off for the court, check that you have all the information that you've been sent about the case; for example, the letter asking you to be a witness and the names of any key people you've been dealing with. It's also a good idea to bring something to keep you entertained - such as a book or magazine - as you may have to wait some time before being called into court. It's also a good idea to have some cash on you for refreshments or car parking.
You may also find it comforting to bring a friend or relative – you don’t have to attend court alone. If you are giving evidence at the Central Criminal Court, also known as the Old Bailey, you will need to let them know in advance that you are bringing someone with you.