Before a trial

When someone is charged with a crime that you saw, and you have given a witness statement, the police will pass your information to the local Witness Care Unit (WCU).

Witness Care Units act as a single point of contact for all prosecution witnesses. They are located across England and Wales and are managed by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

The WCU will assign you a witness care officer to keep you informed about the progress of your case and support you throughout the process. Right up until the case is concluded, your witness care officer will be your point of contact.

Your witness care officer is also the person who will tell you if you have to go to court to give evidence. They should tell you the time and place of the trial, and discuss any particular help or support you might need.

If you’ve given a written statement to the police, but you haven’t heard from the WCU, let the police know. If you can’t go to court on the date or at the time of the trial – perhaps because you can’t get time off work, you’re not well, you have planned hospital treatment or you are going on holiday – you should tell the WCU immediately so that they can tell the prosecution and the court.

If you think you need extra help at court to give your evidence, such as help with a disability, an interpreter or support with any other additional needs, you should discuss it with your witness care officer.

This extra help could be special measures, which are designed to help you give your best evidence at court. If the court agrees, you may be able to use special measures such as screens in the courtroom, communication aids, and giving your evidence via a live video link.

You can get information about courts and their facilities online, from Her Majesty’s Courts Service court finder. There are plenty of other online resources to give you information about court.

You can also receive support and information before, during and after a trial from the witness service. The witness service is run by Citizens Advice and is based in every criminal court in England and Wales. They can arrange for you to visit the court before the trial starts, to see what it’s like and find out what you can expect to happen on the day of the trial. A lot of people find that this helps to give them confidence before they testify.

If the trial is taking place at the Crown Court, the customer service officer will be able to give you information and help make preparations for your visit.

The Government has also produced a Witness Charter, which sets out the basic standards of service you can expect from the criminal justice system if you are called as a witness.

Before you set off for the court, check that you have all the information that you’ve been sent about the case, such as the letter asking you to be a witness and the names of any key people you’ve been dealing with.

It’s a good idea to bring something to keep you occupied, such as a book or magazine, as you may have to wait some time before giving your evidence. It is also worth having some money on you for refreshments or car parking.

You may also find it comforting to bring a friend or relative – you don’t have to attend court alone. If you’re giving evidence at the Central Criminal Court, also known as the Old Bailey, you will need to let them know in advance that you are bringing someone with you.

Get help and support from the Citizens Advice witness service. Call 0300 332 1000.