Advice for witnesses
Thank you for coming forward. We value your help. The criminal justice system cannot work without witnesses. They are the most important element in bringing offenders to justice.
What is the investigation process?
Once a crime has been reported, a police officer will carry out an initial investigation. This will always happen, regardless of the type of crime and however the crime has been recorded.
Will I be kept informed about the investigation?
Yes. The officer in the case will agree with you when and how often you will be updated, and whether you would like to be updated by email or a phone call. The officer will get in touch with you if there are any significant updates, for example, when the offender has been found, arrested or charged.
Will I have to give a statement?
Yes, you might be asked to give a statement to a police officer. As a witness you have an important role to play in bringing offenders to justice. Giving a statement is vital as it forms part of the evidence the police will need to collect and use if the case goes to court.
What will happen to my statement?
If a suspect is charged in relation to this incident, your statement and all the other evidence will be passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). The CPS is responsible for prosecuting people who have been charged with criminal offences in England and Wales. Although they work closely, the police and CPS are separate organisations.
Who will read my statement?
Everyone involved with the case will read your statement. This will include the police, the CPS, the defence and the magistrates or judge.
What if someone tries to intimidate me?
It is a criminal offence to intimidate (frighten) a witness or anyone helping the police in an investigation. If you are harassed or threatened in any way before, during or after the trial, you should tell the police immediately.
Will I be told what is happening in the case?
The police and the CPS are improving procedures to keep victims and witnesses up to date with what is happening, but it is not always possible to do this in every case. Remember, you can contact the police at any time if you have any questions or concerns.
You will be contacted if you are needed to go to court (but it may be some time after you gave your statement as cases take time to prepare).
Victims of crime are usually told:
- if a suspect is charged;
- about bail and what happens at court; and
- if the case does not proceed for any reason.
However, witnesses (who are not victims of the crime) may not be contacted again if:
- the suspect admits the offence and is cautioned or pleads guilty at court;
- there is not enough evidence to prosecute the suspect; or
- no suspect is identified
Will I have to go to court?
If you are asked to be a witness in trial or hearing in court, you play a vital part in delivering justice. Before the courts can find someone guilty or not guilty of a crime, they need to hear and consider the evidence, and witnesses are the people who provide this crucial evidence.
You will only have to go to court if the defendant:
- denies the charge and pleads ‘not guilty’; or
- pleads guilty but denies an important part of the offence which might affect the type of sentence he or she receives.
If you are asked to go to court, the prosecution and defence lawyers will ask you questions about your evidence. You will be able to read your statement to refresh your memory first.
If you have given a statement and are then asked to go to court to give evidence, you must do so. If you are asked to go to court, you will be sent:
- a letter telling you when and where to go; and
- an explanatory leaflet
What will happen if I don’t go to court?
If you have any problems or concerns about going to court, you must let the person who asked you to go to court know as soon as possible.
If you have to go to court but there is reason to believe that you will not go voluntarily, the court may issue a witness summons against you. If you still fail to go to court without a good reason, the court could find you ‘in contempt of court’ and issue a warrant for your arrest.
Where will the case be heard?
Most cases are heard by magistrates or a district judge in magistrates’ courts. Jury trials for more serious crimes are held in the Crown Court.
What help will be provided if I have to give evidence in court?
Witness Care Unit
North Yorkshire Police has a Witness Care Unit to manage the care of witnesses and victims who are required to provide evidence in court. The team can offer you practical support to help with your attendance at court and, if you are the victim of crime, the Witness Care Unit will keep you updated about any significant hearings as the case progresses through the court.
The Witness Care Unit provides:
- A single point of contact for victims and witnesses going to court
- A full needs-assessment for victims and witnesses with particular support needs, to ensure they are able to get to court and give their best evidence
- A dedicated team of witness care officers to guide and support you through the criminal justice process, they will outline the benefits of using Special Measures and the Victim Personal Statement in court
- Co-ordination of support and services
- Continuous review of witness’ needs throughout the case
- Communication with witnesses about the outcome of the case or trial result and the offer of post-case support from the relevant support agency
What do all Witness Care Units have to do?
Under the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime, which came into force on 3 April 2006, all Witness Care Units have a legal obligation to:
- Tell you if you will be required to give evidence
- Tell you the dates of the court hearings
- Provide guidance as to what to expect at court. The Ministry of Justice has produced a helpful video about this.
- Tell victims about court results and explain any sentence given as soon as practicable from receiving the outcome from the court.
Contact the Witness Care Unit
- We are open Monday to Thursday between 8 am and 5 pm, and Friday between the times of 8 am and 4:30 pm.
- To get in touch telephone 101, press option 2 and ask for Witness Care.
Supporting Victims Service
The Supporting Victims Service in North Yorkshire can provide support for victims and witness to a crime, who are finding it difficult to cope with what has happened. You can find out about the Supporting Victims Service in North Yorkshire on their website: www.supportingvictims.org
Other useful information
The Supporting Victims website includes some additional information about what to expect if you are going to court as a witness.
North Yorkshire Police has a booklet called Information for Victims of Crime, which also includes some information for witnesses. You can download this below.[pdf]