Her Majesty's Courts and Tribunals Service has a statutory requirement to make sure you have a separate waiting area and seat in the courtroom away from the defendant's family, where possible.
They will also try to make sure that you do not have to wait more than two hours to give evidence. You will not be allowed into the court room to observe the trial until you have given your evidence.
When you are called into the courtroom the following things will happen:
- You will be shown to the witness box
- You should stand up, but if you find standing difficult, you can ask the magistrate or the judge if you can sit down
- You will be asked to take the oath. This means you have to swear to tell the truth on the holy book of your religion. If you prefer, you can "affirm", that is, to promise to tell the truth.
- If you are a witness for the prosecution the Prosecutor or Crown Advocate will ask you questions first, then the defence will ask you questions. This is known as cross-examination.
Although it can be worrying, cross-examination is an essential part of our justice system.
It is important to remember:
- It isn't personal: it's the lawyers' job to make sure you have not made a mistake.
- You are not on trial: The lawyers are not trying to make people think you are stupid, or call you a liar. If the questions become too aggressive, the lawyer who called you as a witness has a right to ask the judge or magistrates to change their style of questioning. The judge or magistrates can also ask the lawyer to stop the questions.
- The law in England and Wales is based on the idea that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty: Cross-examination tests your evidence to make sure it really proves something.
You may also be asked questions by a magistrate, the clerk or the judge. In the Crown Court the jury can write down questions for the judge to read out.
Once you have given your evidence, the court will tell you that you may leave the witness box. You may be told that you are released, this means that you can leave. You may be asked to stay after you have given evidence if something new comes up. You can stay and listen to the rest of the case if you want to.
When both the prosecution and the defence have presented their evidence, the Prosecutor and the defence lawyer will summarise the evidence from their point of view and present arguments to support their case. This is called 'closing arguments' or 'summing up'. Then, depending on where the case is heard, the jury (in Crown Court), the magistrates or the district judge (magistrates' court) will then decide whether or not the defendant is guilty.
Your witness care officer will tell you the result of the case.