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Attending court: guide for parents and carers

Guidance for parents and carers of a child appearing in court. Includes the support available for child witnesses.

Your responsibilities

If your child, or a child in your care, receives a citation letter from COPFS, they must attend court.

We will advise you in writing of the date and time of the trial or hearing. If it clashes with important commitments, such as school examinations, tell us as soon as possible.

Please note that this guide is about children involved in criminal court cases. For cases referred to the Children's Reporter for a children’s hearing, follow these links instead:

Preparing your child for attending court

Victim Support Scotland gives emotional and practical support to victims. Their Witness Service provides assistance at the court buildings.

All child witnesses are referred to our Victim Information and Advice service (VIA). If you or your child wish to visit a courtroom in advance, please contact VIA, who will arrange this.

Before the trial, parents and carers may want to prepare child witnesses for court. However, you must not:

  • coach them or help them rehearse what to say
  • show approval or disapproval of certain evidence

If your child is accused of a crime, see our information for accused persons. It contains links that may help you in finding

  • a defence lawyer to represent your child
  • legal aid to help cover the costs

Precognition

Our first letter may ask for a meeting with you and your child on a separate occasion before the court meets. This is called precognition. It enables us to find out what the witness may say when they give evidence. In these and any interviews which lawyers may want with your child, think about who can be with them for support.

This meeting is also an opportunity to talk about any concerns or additional needs your child may have at court.

Witness booklets for children are available. They help children to understand what will happen at court and why. If your child has not already received one by this point, please tell the person who sent the citation.

Arriving at court

You and your child should report to the courthouse staff in plenty of time before the court meets.

If your child is nervous about seeing other people, ask a member of court staff if there is a private entrance or waiting room for children. You can also contact VIA about this in advance.

What to bring

When you come to court, bring the citation documents that we sent to you. Show them to the person you check in with at the courthouse. They will take you where you need to go.

You may bring items with you to help you and your child pass the time in the waiting room.

How long will it take?

Courts reduce waiting times for child witnesses wherever possible. There may still be long waits at different points during the day.

Refreshments can sometimes be bought in the building (cafeteria or vending machine).

People present in the courtroom

In some cases involving children, the judge may clear the public gallery of the courtroom. This is called a closed court. It can happen when

  • a child witness has to answer questions about indecent behaviour
  • the accused is under the age of 16 years

See our Courtroom layout page for more information on people in the courtroom and where they sit.

Giving evidence

When a child is involved in a court case, their evidence is an important part of the justice process.

When it is your child’s turn to give evidence, a court official will call their name and show them to the witness box in the courtroom. They will be asked to repeat an oath or promise to tell the truth.

In a criminal trial, the lawyers prosecuting and defending the accused will get a chance to ask the witness questions. The defence lawyers will have a copy of any statement your child has made to the police. The judge may also ask them questions.

When giving evidence, they should:

  • listen carefully
  • take their time to answer
  • say if they do not understand the question or do not know the answer
  • speak slowly and clearly

Witnesses must tell the truth at all times.

After giving evidence, they should not return to the witness room or discuss their evidence with other witnesses. They may stay and listen to the rest of the case.

Can I stay with my child?

You can sit with your child in the witness waiting room.

You can be in the courtroom when they give their evidence, if:

  • you have given any evidence of your own already
  • you are not due to give any evidence

Otherwise you will need to stay in the waiting room whilst your child gives evidence.

Read about ‘supporters’ in our information on special measures.

What happens if they are not called to give evidence?

Sometimes the court can run out of time on the day. Although every effort is made to hear child evidence as soon as possible, you may have to return on another day.

The accused may change their plea to guilty during the trial. When this happens, any witnesses not yet heard will not be needed.

Support at court

Scottish law protects child victims in criminal cases from being identified by the media. This protection also extends to accused persons under 18 years of age and, in some cases, child witnesses. This applies even when details are revealed in open court. The media can apply to the court to have these restrictions lifted.

Child witnesses also have an automatic right to some special measures in court:

  • giving evidence by live TV link from a separate room
  • having a supporter with them
  • divider screens so that they don't have to see the accused whilst giving evidence

Read about these and other special measures in Vulnerable victims and witnesses.

See our Guide for Accused for more information concerning young people who are prosecuted in court (aged 16 to 17).

Children or carers with accessibility needs

Disabled access within the courtroom varies from site to site. Scottish Courts continue to improve facilities. Some public galleries have limited or no access for wheelchairs. However, every effort will be made to accommodate wheelchairs in waiting rooms, witness stands, and connecting spaces.

Induction loops are available for persons with hearing impairments.

Please discuss your needs with us as soon as possible after we cite you to come to court.

See our People with mobility needs page for more information.

If English is your second language

You or your child may need your papers in another language. You may also need help speaking to and understanding the court. We can make arrangements for sign language and spoken languages. Please contact us as soon as possible before the court meets.

See Interpreters and language support for details.

At the end of the trial

Three verdicts can be reached in a criminal case:

Guilty verdict

Guilty means that the judge or the jury believed, beyond reasonable doubt, that the accused committed the crime. The judge will then decide any sentence or punishment.

Not proven or not guilty verdict

Not proven means that the judge or the jury decided that the evidence that they heard at the trial did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused person committed the crime. Not guilty means that, after hearing all of the evidence, the judge or jury decided that the accused person committed the crime. With both of these verdicts, the accused is acquitted, is free to leave and cannot be re-tried except in very rare circumstances.

Find out more information about what happens after the verdict.

Claiming expenses

Expenses can only be claimed for witnesses and their parents or carers. They are not available to accused persons or their parents and carers.

Carers of child witnesses can claim for travel costs and meals. You cannot claim for loss of earnings or childminding expenses.

For full details see our guide to claiming expenses for attending court.

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