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Attending court: guide for victims and witnesses

Guidance on the court process for victims and witnesses involved in a case – before, during, and after you go to court. This guide replaces the 'Being a witness leaflet'.

Finding out your availability for court

If you are the victim of or witness to a crime we may send you a letter asking you to provide your availability to attend court.

We need this information to help the court set a trial date that you can attend.

If you have any questions about this letter you can contact us.

Please note it is not always possible for the court to set dates which suit everyone involved in a case.

Your letter to attend court (citation)

If you’re needed as a witness in a court case, you’ll receive a letter telling you to come to court and give evidence. This is your citation.

Your citation letter tells you:

  • when you’re due in court
  • where to go when you arrive
  • the support services available to you
  • contact details for the court

If you have any questions or concerns about attending court please contact us.

Warning

It is important not to ignore a citation letter. You are required by law to attend at the time and place stated.

Letters without a fixed court date or location (floating trials)

Your citation may not include a definite court date or location. It may show the first day of a ‘float period’, in which the trial could start on any one of several days within that period.

This is called a ‘floating trial’ – it will be printed on the top right of your citation letter. The court might set a floating trial, for example, where flexibility will help to ensure a continuous schedule.

We will confirm the exact date to you as soon as possible. We will keep you informed of any developments, so please make sure that we are able to contact you.

Dropping charges

In Scotland, the Procurator Fiscal (lawyer working for COPFS) decides if an accused person should be prosecuted or not. If you are a victim or a witness the Procurator Fiscal will take your views into account when deciding what action to take but the Procurator Fiscal will make the final decision based on an assessment of the public interest. See the Scottish Government guide for more information.

Reviewing your statement before you attend court

If you are a witness, you may want to look again at a statement you have already given to the police.

Find out how to review a witness statement.

Making a Victim (Impact) Statement

A Victim (Impact) Statement is your opportunity to tell the court how the crime has affected you personally:

Read our page on making your Victim (Impact) Statement, which explains:

  • who can make a Victim (Impact) Statement
  • what goes in a Victim (Impact) Statement
  • how to submit one
  • when your statement will be used

Arriving at court

On the day of the trial, witnesses should bring their citation to the court building and show it to the person at the reception desk. They will direct you to a waiting room.

If you are not giving evidence, report to reception, and someone will guide you where you need to go.

The accused is not allowed in the witness waiting rooms.

Witnesses for the defence should be kept separate from witnesses for the prosecution. You may pass someone else involved in the case around the court building. If you have concerns about this, please talk to:

  • the lawyer who cited you to attend
  • your contact at our Victim Information and Advice Service
  • a court official
  • the Witness Service (part of Victim Support Scotland)

Someone will be able to escort you from one part of the building to another.

It is a good idea to take something with you to pass the time, such as a book or magazine.

A court officer will tell you when it is your turn to give evidence.

How long will it take?

A criminal trial may last for several hours, for a whole day or for several days.

A court officer will tell you:

  • about the progress of the case
  • when it is your turn to give evidence
  • when you can leave; it is important that you do not to leave until you have been informed to do so

A trial may not go ahead as planned for a variety of reasons. You will be provided with updates and told when you can leave.

People present in the courtroom

With you in the courtroom will be:

  • the judge or sheriff
  • the procurator fiscal or advocate depute (the prosecutor)
  • the accused person's lawyer(s) (the defence lawyer(s))
  • the jury (in solemn cases only)
  • the clerk of court
  • the court officer
  • the accused
  • court police or security officers

Courts are generally open to the public. Members of the public over the age of 14 can sit in the public area of the courtroom. From there, they can watch and listen to the witnesses, lawyers, and judge. However, in some cases, the courtroom will be closed to the public.

Giving evidence

If you are a witness a court official will call your name when it is your turn to give evidence. They will show you to the witness box in the courtroom. You will be asked to repeat an oath or promise to tell the truth.

In a criminal trial, the lawyers prosecuting and defending the accused may ask you questions. The judge may also ask you questions. Occasionally, the accused can ask questions.

When giving evidence:

  • listen carefully
  • say if you do not understand the question or do not know the answer
  • speak clearly

Witnesses must tell the truth at all times.

After giving evidence, you should not return to the witness room or discuss your evidence with anyone else involved in the case. You may stay and listen to the rest of the case.

If you are worried about giving evidence

We know that you may be concerned about giving evidence or seeing the accused at court. In some cases, the court can put in place special measures to support witnesses.

See our Vulnerable witnesses section below.

If you are not called to give evidence

Sometimes a trial may not go ahead on the day you attend court. This might be because the accused has plead guilty or because other witnesses are absent.

A court officer will update you on the progress of your case and let you know when you can go.

Expert witnesses

View information for expert/ skilled witnesses.

Support at court

Vulnerable witnesses

A ‘deemed vulnerable’ witness is someone who is entitled to extra support (special measures) when giving evidence in court due to their circumstances or the nature of their evidence. Deemed vulnerable witnesses are:

  • all witnesses aged under 18
  • victims of sexual offences
  • victims of human trafficking
  • victims of domestic abuse
  • victims of stalking

Other witnesses may be considered vulnerable if the court is satisfied that one of the following applies:

  • the witness has mental health issues
  • the witness has a learning disability
  • the witness is frightened or distressed about giving evidence
  • the witness is at risk as a result of giving evidence

Vulnerable witnesses are entitled to give evidence with the benefit of one or more of the following special measures:

  • giving evidence from behind a screen
  • giving evidence using a television link from a remote location
  • having a support person present when giving evidence

Other special measures can be used if the Court decides that they are appropriate:

  • Evidence in chief by prior statement
  • Evidence by commissioner
  • Closing the court to members of the public

Find out more about these special measures and who you can talk to about them.

Support organisations

Victim support organisations may be able to offer you help and advice about coming to court.

Find out more about victim support organisations.

If you have accessibility needs

Transport for witnesses

If you are disabled or elderly and restricted in your movements, the Procurator Fiscal can pay for a taxi to and from court.

Let us know before your court date if you need a taxi. Keep your receipts so you can claim back the taxi fare.

At the court

Please let us know your access needs in advance. We will then make arrangements with SCTS (the courts service), who are responsible for accessibility in court buildings.

Most court buildings are wheelchair-accessible. Some courts also have a loop system for people with hearing difficulties.

You can find out what facilities a specific court building will have on the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service website.

If English is your second language

You can have an interpreter with you in court if English is not your first language.

Interpreters for Crown witnesses

If you are a witness for the prosecution (your citation came from COPFS), it will be our responsibility to arrange the interpreter. Inform VIA or the COPFS Enquiry Point or use the letter we sent with your citation to tell us that you need an interpreter and your specific language and dialect.

If you were cited by a defence lawyer, approach the contact point in the documents they have sent you.

See our Interpreters and language support page for more information, including BSL.

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

These verdicts mean that the accused person is acquitted (not guilty) and will be free to leave. If someone is found not proven or not guilty they cannot be retried except in very rare circumstances.

Visit our ‘After the verdict: Guide for victims and witnesses’ for more information on sentencing.

Claiming expenses

You can claim reasonable expenses, where you have incurred costs by attending court as a witness. These include:

  • travel to and from court
  • food and drink
  • childminders and carers
  • lost earnings

Find out how to claim expenses for attending court.

Warning

Exceptional costs such as taxi fares, air travel and overnight accommodation must be approved by COPFS in advance

Victim Notification Scheme

The Victim Notification Scheme offers victims information about the detention of offenders.

If someone has gone to prison after committing a crime against you, some victims can ask to be told when they are released from custody.

Find out how to sign up for the Victim Notification Scheme.

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