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Support to give your evidence - ‘special measures’ - Rape and Serious Sexual Assault

When a case goes to trial, you will usually be asked to give evidence. This involves describing what happened to you in your own words and answering questions about it from our prosecution barrister and from the defence barrister.

This can feel daunting but there are things we can ask for to help you feel more comfortable when you give your evidence - these are called ‘special measures’.

They can be put in place for how you give your evidence at trial or sometimes they can mean that you give all your evidence before the trial happens.  We’ll apply for these measures for you and the judge will make a decision about whether to grant them.

Special measures are there to support you if you need them but you don’t have to ask for them if you don’t want to.

Vulnerable and intimidated victims and witnesses can ask for special measures.  

Victims of rape or serious sexual assault are classed as intimidated witnesses under the law, so this means you are automatically entitled to ask for special measures, if you want to have them. 

Some special measures are currently only available to vulnerable victims and witnesses. 

You will be classed as a vulnerable witness if you are under 18. You will also be classed as a vulnerable witness if you have a physical or mental disability or condition that would affect your ability to give your best evidence in court. You should discuss this with your police contact if you think this applies to you.

There are two special measures that can help you give some or all of your evidence before the trial.

  1. Video recorded evidence-in-chief. ‘Evidence-in-chief' is your description of what happened to you. This special measure allows us to video record your evidence before the trial and play it back during trial so that you don’t need to repeat all the details of the offence in court.  You will still be asked additional questions by the prosecution barrister to clarify any issues and be cross-examined (asked questions about your evidence) by the defence barrister during the trial. Sometimes you might hear people call this a ‘VRI’ which stands for ‘Video Recorded Interview’ or an ‘ABE’ which stands for ‘Achieving Best Evidence’ interview.

  2. Video recorded cross-examination or re-examination. ‘Cross-examination’ is when the defendant’s lawyers ask you questions about what happened and ‘re-examination’ is what we call any final follow up questions that the prosecution barrister asks you. This special measure allows us to record your cross-examination and re-examination before the trial. You wouldn’t have to attend the trial at all and your video-recorded evidence-in-chief and cross-examination will be played to the jury and court instead. You can read more about cross-examination and re-examination in the section 'What you will be asked'.

This special measure isn’t available for all victims of rape and serious sexual assault right now. Your police contact will let you know if it is available in your court. We expect it to be available in all Crown Courts by autumn 2022.

You can access it in any Crown Court if you are considered to be a vulnerable witness.

Sometimes you might hear people call this special measure ‘section 28’, this is because that’s the section of the law on giving evidence which explains it.

There are six special measures which can help you give evidence during the trial. The first four are available to both vulnerable and intimidated witnesses, which includes all victims of rape and serious sexual assault, and the final two are only available to vulnerable victims and witnesses.

  1. Screens. Screens are usually curtains or panels that the court places between the witness box and the defendant when you are giving evidence. This means that you won’t see the defendant while you give your evidence or when you’re being cross-examined. The judge, jury and barristers can see you and you can see them.

  2. Evidence by live link. This is usually a television link from a private room within the main court building but sometimes you can give evidence from another location such as a different courthouse closer to your home, a specially designed room in a police station or a Sexual Assault Referral Centre (SARC).

    If you give evidence via live link you will be able to see whoever is asking you the questions (the barristers or the judge) but you usually won’t be able to see anyone else in the courtroom. However, everyone in the courtroom will be able to see you, including the defendant.  We can apply for screens together with the live link to prevent the defendant from seeing you, if you would find that helpful.

  3. Evidence given in private. This means the courtroom is cleared of everyone who doesn’t legally need to be there for the purposes of the trial.  If your case is likely to attract media attention, one member of the press is allowed to stay in the court but, as with every stage of the case, you have full anonymity in relation to publication so the media are not allowed to publish your name.

  4. Removal of wigs and gowns by the judge and barristers. This is usually used for child victims and witnesses. This is aimed at helping them to feel more comfortable by making the court seem less formal.

There are two special measures which are only available to vulnerable victims and witnesses:

  1. Intermediaries. Intermediaries are people who can support you if you need help to fully understand and answer the questions you are being asked.  An intermediary will check that the questions are asked in a way that means you can easily understand them. They will also help you share your answers clearly with the court.

  2. Aids to Communication. Aids to communication can include things like visual-aid boards, eye-gaze software, dolls or body-outline drawings. You can use these if you have a disability that means you need support to assist you in understanding or answering questions.

The police will talk to you about which special measures would help you to give your evidence. You can also ask them about it if you’d like to discuss it at any stage.

They will let us know what special measures you’ve chosen and why and we will apply to the court for permission to use them. We’ll explain to the judge why we think they will help you to give your best evidence.

The judge will then make a decision about what special measures to approve. The police will let you know what the judge has decided.

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