What is precognition?

When a crime is reported to the police, they take all of the details from the person who reported it. They also find out what other witnesses saw and heard. The police then decide:

  • whether a crime has been committed
  • if a crime has been committed, whether to report the case to the COPFS

If the police report the case to COPFS, a Procurator Fiscal (prosecution lawyer working for COPFS) will decide whether to prosecute the accused person. The Prosecution Code explains the factors that guide this process.

The Procurator Fiscal may meet witnesses to find out more about the alleged crime. If you are a witness, we may ask you to come to an interview to ask you questions about the alleged crime. This interview, which happens before a case goes to court, is called ‘precognition’.

Do I need to come to the precognition?

We may still need you to come for precognition even if you have already given a statement to the police. If we need you to come for precognition we will send you a letter called a citation.

The citation will tell you where and when to attend, so you can plan your journey in advance. If you receive a citation you must attend or contact us as soon as possible to arrange a more suitable time. 

What happens at this meeting?

The member of staff from COPFS who is dealing with the case will ask you about what happened. They may ask you questions that the police did not. This may include what you saw, heard or experienced about the alleged crime. They may also ask for your views on what you want to happen to the case, for example, do you want the case go to court?

This is the time to mention anything else that you think is important even if you are not asked about it.

Who will be there?

The member of staff who is dealing with the case will interview you. If you are a victim, who has been referred to the COPFS Victim Information and Advice service (VIA), a member of VIA might be there too.

Can I bring someone?

Precognitions are usually private meetings. If you feel it would help you to have someone with you for support, please discuss this with us before you come for the interview. Use the contact details given on your citation.

Preparing for court

At the time of precognition, the prosecutor may not have made a final decision about whether the accused person will be prosecuted in court. However, we can still use this meeting to talk about getting ready for court, in case it happens.

The meeting helps us to understand what you may say when you give evidence. It is also an opportunity to help you to get ready for appearing in court by asking questions about what is involved and what support is available.

In most cases, the statement that you gave to the police must be given to the lawyer representing the accused person. If you say something different during precognition, we have to tell the lawyer representing the accused person. We will not tell the accused person's lawyer your private information, such as your address, unless that information is relevant to the alleged crime.

Vulnerable witnesses

Some witnesses are classed as vulnerable, and can use special measures when giving evidence. These special measures can reduce the stress of going to court and help you to give your best evidence. These are some examples:

  • a support person
  • screens in the courtroom
  • giving evidence from a remote location using a live television link

Vulnerable witnesses include all children and victims of certain offences. (See our article on supporting vulnerable witnesses for a full list.)

At your precognition meeting, we can:

  • talk with you about your concerns
  • talk about which special measures might help you when giving evidence

Expert/Skilled witnesses

Some witnesses are called upon to give specialist or scientific opinion to the court. They are known as expert or skilled witnesses.

If you are attending precognition as an expert or skilled witness, this is when we will explore your evidence to assess whether all relevant matters are addressed or whether further information is required to supplement your findings or support your conclusions.

Please let us know at this stage of your planned method of presentation. (We need to ensure the courtroom is set up with any necessary display equipment.)

At precognition, please notify us of any preferred dates and times for attending court. We will try and schedule a convenient court appearance for you.

Find out more about what is required as an expert/skilled witness.

What happens after the meeting?

Deciding what action to take

Precognition does not mean that the accused person will definitely be prosecuted. We have to assess all of the evidence in the case as well as yours. There must be enough evidence to prove that the accused person committed the alleged crime and it must be in the public interest to prosecute the accused person. When the Procurator Fiscal is deciding what action best serves the public interest they consider several factors including:

  • the seriousness of the offence
  • the impact on the victim and the witnesses
  • the personal circumstances of the victim, the witnesses and the accused
  • any mitigating circumstances
  • the risk of further offending

After assessing the evidence and the public interest, the Procurator Fiscal will decide whether to prosecute. If the case goes to court, they will also decide:

  • what charges the accused will face
  • which court the trial will take place in

Keeping you informed

You may want to know what is happening after your precognition has taken place. For example, whether the case is going to court or not.

If you are a victim, and have been referred to VIA, they will keep you updated with progress in the case.

If you have not been referred to VIA or you are a witness you should contact the member of COPFS staff mentioned in your citation or contact the COPFS Enquiry Point for more information.

You can also get general advice from support organisations about this or any other stage in the justice process.

Precognition by the defence

The lawyer representing the accused person may ask you to come for precognition. You do not have to speak to the defence lawyer, but we encourage you to speak to them if they ask you to. It could result in the the accused deciding to plead guilty having heard what you are likely to say in court. If this happens, you will not have to give evidence.

If you choose not to speak to the defence lawyer, they can ask the court to set a court hearing so that they can ask you questions. If this happens you must attend the court hearing and you will be asked questions in front of a judge. This is rare but you should know that it could happen.