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If you’ve experienced or witnessed a crime, you might be asked to go to court to give evidence. This can be a daunting experience and in this section we will explain how the process works, what you may be asked to do, and outline the many support services available to you.
Preparing to attend court
Attending court can be difficult and daunting for many people, whether they are victims, witnesses or both.
Victim Support NI have developed a range of tools and services to support victims and witnesses of crime on their journey through the justice system. You can visit the Victim Support NI website to find out more about the Victim’s Journey.
To help you prepare to attend court, the following services have been developed by Victim Support NI:
- Information on preparing to attend court
- Information about Attending Court
- An Interactive Court Room to let you see the court where your case will be held
- Pre-trial court familiarisation visits
These services can be arranged by phoning your local Witness Service at the numbers listed below.
- Antrim – 028 9448 863
- Belfast – 028 9023 2523
- Craigavon – 028 3834 3553
- Downpatrick – 028 4461 6233
- Dungannon – 028 8775 1550
- Foyle – 028 7127 9440
You can watch a short video about attending court on the NI Direct website.
For children and young people, the following animation developed by the NSPCC Young Witness Service will help you prepare to attend court.
If you live outside Northern Ireland, and are invited to attend court, your Victim and Witness Care Unit (VWCU) case officer will book flights and accommodation for you. Your flight and accommodation will be booked for you through Selective Travel. Should you need to contact Selective Travel in an emergency, their telephone number is: 028 9096 2000. Their opening hours are from 08.30am to 6pm Monday to Friday.
If you are travelling to court from within Northern Ireland, you can claim certain expenses back.
When you are invited to attend court, a form for claiming expenses will be included. Please bring this with you to the court. List all expenses incurred by you and ensure this is signed by a PPS member of staff or the PSNI Investigating Officer after you have finished giving your evidence.
If you forget to get your form signed, don’t worry. Contact your VWCU Case Officer and they will help you out.
You can read more about claiming expenses as a witness on the Victim and Witness Expenses page.
Invitation to attend court
Your VWCU case officer will ask you for dates you are unavailable to attend court over the next few months. A few examples of information required are planned holidays, doctor, dentist, hospital appointments and exams. They will also carry out a more detailed needs assessment, known as an Enhanced Needs Assessment. This is to answer any queries or concerns you have and to help you apply for additional support services that can make your visit to court more comfortable.
Once the date for trial has been set, your VWCU case officer will invite you to attend court.
If you are a witness, or a victim who is required to give evidence, and you do not respond to the invitation, a summons may be issued. A summons means you are legally required to attend court.
You will be given the time, date and location of the trial and directions to the court. If the date of the trial clashes with any pre-planned appointments, or your circumstances have changed, please contact your VWCU case officer immediately.
You will have to attend either the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court. If the defendant is aged under the age of 18 you will usually attend the Youth Court.
All adult cases will be heard first in the Magistrates’ Court. If the case is more serious it will move to the Crown Court for trial. A jury usually decides at Crown Court if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. The District Judge will make the decision in the Magistrates’ Court.
Prior to the trial date, your case officer will contact you to confirm your attendance at court, if you have not already done so.
Help for you at court
Before any court appearance your case officer from the Victim and Witness Care Unit will be in touch to discuss arrangements, and to answer any queries or concerns you may have. There are a number of supports available to victims and witnesses from Victim Support or the Young Witness Service if you are under 18. Your VWCU case officer can request this for you, or they can request a member of Victim Support to contact you.
Other support services include:
|Victim Support NI||028 9024 3133 or 028 7137 0086||www.victimsupportni.com|
|NSPCC Young Witness Service (at court)||028 9448 7533||learning.nspcc.org.uk|
|NSPCC Northern Ireland||028 9035 1135|
|Women's Aid||028 9024 9041||www.womensaidni.org|
|Men's Advisory Project||028 9024 1929||www.mapni.co.uk|
There are also additional support services available for vulnerable and intimidated witnesses. You can read more about these services by visiting the vulnerable or intimidated witnesses page.
Arriving at Court
Allow plenty of time for your journey taking into consideration unexpected delays, for example, traffic build up, diversions, road works, transport delays etc. Make sure you bring the following documents with you:
- Your invitation
- Your expenses form
- The directions to the court
- A contact telephone number for your VWCU case officer
If you are unexpectedly delayed on your way to court, please contact your VWCU case officer who will liaise with the court on your behalf.
On arrival at court speak to the security staff who will direct you where to go.
If you have requested the services of Victim Support or NSPCC, security staff will contact them on your behalf. They will take you to a waiting area which is separate from the public waiting area. With the court’s permission they will go with you into the courtroom when you have to give your evidence and they will keep you informed of developments in the case throughout the day.
The prosecutor will make every effort to meet you before you give your evidence and answer any questions you might have.
You may have to wait for a while before you give your evidence. Some cases are delayed or even put off until another date. This may be due to another case lasting longer than expected, or because someone who is required to attend court has not arrived.
If you are required to give evidence, and you have made a statement to the police, you will be provided with a copy of your statement before you go into court so that you can read over it and refresh your memory.
A court official will call your name when the court is ready to hear your evidence. You need to follow them into the court room. You will be shown to the witness box.
You will be told that you must make a religious oath or promise to tell the truth (affirm). If you are under the age of 14 you will be asked if you understand what it means to tell the truth.
You will be told how to address the judge. You should talk directly to the judge or, if there is one, the jury.
You do not need to remain at the courthouse after you have given your evidence, but you can stay for the rest of the trial if you wish.
You can read more about Attending Court on the NI Direct website.
If you are a victim, your VWCU case officer will inform you in writing of the outcome of your case including any sentence given to the defendant, if they are found guilty.
A defendant may be entitled to appeal a conviction or sentence. If this happens your VWCU case officer will let you know. If the appeal relates to a conviction in the Magistrates’ Court, you may be asked to give evidence again. If you have to attend court, your VWCU case officer will give you details of the date, time and location of the appeal.