Q. Why have I received a letter asking me to provide my availability to attend court?
A. You may have received a letter from us asking you to give us information on your availability to attend court to give evidence. This is either because you could be cited to attend court to give evidence in a High Court case or because your details have been provided to us as someone who may need to give evidence in a possible Sheriff and Jury case. It is important that you provide us with the information we have asked for to allow the court to do its best to avoid setting dates for a trial which do not suit the witnesses. Please note however, it is not always possible for the court to set dates which suit all the witnesses in a case. If you do not provide us with your availability when requested we may need to ask the police to contact you directly for the information.
If you have any questions about the letter please contact us at 0300 020 3000.
Q. I’ve been asked to give evidence – what does this mean?
A. Witnesses play an essential part in the justice system, providing important information about court cases.
Q. Do I have to attend if I have been asked to give evidence?
A. If you have received a witness citation, you must attend. All witnesses must give evidence in court rather than have their statements read out. Failing to attend may result in a warrant being issued for your arrest. The procurator fiscal or police will contact you if you are no longer needed to give evidence. Advice, assistance and support services are available for witnesses. Special arrangements can sometimes be made for elderly, disabled or vulnerable witnesses. You can also bring someone to sit in the witness room with you when you come to court. Interpreters can be arranged if English is not your first language.
Q. What happens if I can’t remember anything?
A. The questions asked by the lawyers in court should help refresh your memory. Listen carefully, take your time to answer and say if you do not understand the question or do not know the answer. Speak slowly and clearly. Witnesses must tell the truth at all times and may face criminal charges if they do not.
Q. Will I see the accused in court?
A. To ensure justice is done, it is important for the accused to attend the court hearing. Some special measures can be taken to help vulnerable witnesses, including all children, such as giving evidence from behind a screen in the courtroom or by a television link, or having a support person with you in court. You will only be in the same room as the accused when you are giving evidence.
Q. How long will I be in court?
A. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing exactly how long a case will last. The court staff will keep you informed about the progress of your case.
Q. What if I am unwell?
A. 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.
Q. What happens if I cannot attend because I’m on holiday?
A. You should send or email copies of any booking confirmation and details of the case you are involved in to the procurator fiscal.
Q. Can I claim expenses for attending court as a witness?
A. Yes – using the form on the back of your citation, you can claim expenses for travelling to and from the court and an allowance for meals. Cash payments are only made in cases of genuine hardship or emergency. Exceptional costs such as taxi fares, air travel and overnight accommodation must by approved by the procurator fiscal in advance. If you have lost your citation, go to the procurator fiscal’s after giving evidence and you will be issued with a duplicate.
Q. What if I am working?
A. Claims can be made for loss of earnings for witnesses who are employed and self-employed. Let your employer know in advance that you have been asked to give evidence. By law, your employer must release you for the duration of the trial.
Q. Are there childcare facilities in court buildings?
A. Unfortunately, there are no childcare facilities but prosecution witnesses can claim expenses for childcare and babysitting at fixed rates. Children are not allowed in court unless they are giving evidence as a witness.
Q. Can I breastfeed in court?
A. In Scotland, it is an offence to stop anyone breastfeeding in a public place
Q. How should I dress and behave in court?
A. You should wear clothes that are comfortable. Most witnesses dress smartly. You should not disrupt the proceedings in court but can speak to the Sheriff when asked to do so. Judges and sheriffs are addressed as My Lord or My Lady.
Q. How do I get back property taken during the investigation?
A. 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.
Q. How do I make a complaint about COPFS?
A. COPFS has a well-established and rigorous complaints procedure. Full information is available on our website.
Q. How do I change my contact details?
A. You should write or email the procurator fiscal, quoting the reference number of the case you are involved in.