Advice for Witnesses

Telling the police

If you witness a crime you have a vital role to play in bringing the criminals to justice. You may well be concerned about reporting what you have seen or of giving a statement. There is no legal obligation for you to do this but the information you give could bring a criminal to justice, prevent further crimes being committed and protect others from becoming victims.

Giving a witness statement

A witness statement is your written or video recorded account of what happened. An officer will ask you questions and write down what you say. You will be asked to read it and sign it. When you sign a witness statement you are saying that you agree the statement is a true account of your experience. Your witness statement may be used as evidence in court.

You should be given the name of the officer taking your statement and their rank and number. You should also be given the name of the officer who will be in charge of the case and their contact details. This may be the same officer who takes your statement..

You will be given a leaflet 'Giving a witness statement to the police - what happens next?'. This leaflet explains who to contact to find out how the case is progressing and what happens next.

Sometimes people are afraid of making a witness statement. They worry that they will be intimidated by the offender or their friends. This is very rare.

I feel intimidated, what should I do?

It is a criminal offence to intimidate or frighten a witness or anyone helping the police in an investigation.

If you feel you have suffered harassment or fear of violence please let us know immediately.

There are several ways to protect witnesses:

  • Criminal and civil proceedings can be taken against the intimidators who could then face jail
  • Specialist hand and security alarms can provide additional security
  • In extreme circumstances witnesses can be relocated
Will I have to attend court?

Most court hearings are resolved without witnesses having to attend to give evidence.

If you are called to attend court the Witness Care Unit will contact you to explain the process and advise you of the support that is available.

The Witness Care Unit provides you with a single point of contact for the case and is there to help make your court appearance as easy as possible. They can offer practical support with things such as transport, accommodation and child care. They can also arrange for you to visit the court beforehand so that you know what to expect.

The Witness Care Unit can also contact the Court Witness Service who can personally offer you support at the court. The Witness Service, run by the Citizens Advice Bureau, helps victims and witnesses attending court. They are trained staff and volunteers who can arrange a pre-trial visit to the court and advise you of what to expect, they are also present to support you when the court case is heard. Please note the Witness Service cannot discuss the case or the contents of your evidence with you.

Special measures

Some witnesses may qualify for special measures to be put in place during the court hearing to help them give their best evidence.

The Judge or Magistrate will decide what special measures can be given to help vulnerable or intimidated witnesses to give evidence.

Special measures include:

  • Screens to shield a witness from the offender
  • A live video link so that the witness can give evidence without being in court
  • Evidence being given in private
  • Video recorded evidence
  • An intermediary
  • Communication aids

If you feel you need special measures please tell the officer dealing with your case as soon as possible in order that they can be applied for.

Translation and Interpretation: If you do not understand or speak English, you are entitled to ask for interpretation into a language you understand giving evidence in criminal proceedings.  You have the legal right to use Welsh when giving evidence and the court will make the necessary provisions

Resources

The Witness Charter sets out the standards of care you can expect if you are a witness to a crime or incident in England and Wales.

There is a DVD called ‘Going to Court – A Step by Step Guide to Being a Witness’ that takes you through the court experience. You can view this at www.gov.uk/going-to-court-victim-witness.

In addition you can see what facilities are available at individual Crown and Magistrates’ Courts online. 

There are a number of websites provided by the Criminal Justice agencies to help witnesses.