Understanding the process

The court process can sometimes be difficult to understand, but there are lots of ways you can get support to help you find out what will happen and when.

This content has been written for children and young people. If you’re looking for information for over 18s, visit our Going to Court information.

It’s important that you understand the court process if you are going to be a witness. This is because it will help you:

  • prepare for what will happen
  • make the best choices about what support you will need

You have already told the police about something you saw or heard, or about something that happened to you. The police made a record of what you said, either by making a visual recording or by writing it down. This is your statement. The police and the Crown Prosecution Service have decided that someone may have committed a crime and must go to court. Now the court needs you to tell them what happened – to give your evidence and to answer any questions – at a trial.

The most important thing that a witness can do is to tell the truth. The court wants to hear from you, in your own words, so it’s important that anyone who helps you to prepare for court does not talk to you in detail about your evidence.

If the person who is accused of committing a crime (the defendant) says they didn’t do it, there will need to be a trial to decide the truth. People in the court hear both sides of the argument and then decide whether or not the defendant is guilty. They can only make this decision by listening to the evidence of witnesses like you.

The police will contact you to tell you if you need to go to court to give evidencebut sometimes the situation changes, even on the day of the trial. The defendant may change their mind, agree that they broke the law and plead guilty – in which case the magistrate or judge will say that you don’t have to give evidence after all, and you can leave.

Sometimes there can be other problems. A witness may be ill or may not be able to come to court that day, or information needed by the court may not be ready in time, so the trial may have to be put off to another day. Sometimes these problems happen once the trial has already started; if they are serious problems the court may decide that the trial has to stop, and that the witnesses (and sometimes the defendant) are free to go home.

If you are asked to be a witness in court, you play an important part in delivering justice.

By giving evidence, you help the judge and jury to understand what really happened. They can then decide if someone is guilty or not.

Some people feel worried about giving evidence in court. This is not unusual and everyone working in the courts will do what they can to make sure you are treated with respect and supported.

If you have any worries about going to court, please tell your witness supporter or the police officer working on your case, who can talk through your worries, look at your choices with you and help get you the right support.