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You might have to go to court as a witness

This advice applies to England

You might have to go to court as a witness in a criminal court if:

  • you’re the victim of a crime - in which case you’ll be a witness for the prosecution
  • you witnessed a crime - you could be a witness for the prosecution or the defence
  • someone you know has been accused of a crime - you’ll be asked to talk about what kind of person they are by the defence

You might not actually end up going to court, but you'll be kept updated on what happens next.

If you’re worried about going to court, you can get free help and support from the Citizens Advice Witness Service. Fill in the contact form or call 0300 332 1000 and someone will contact you within 2 working days.

How you’ll be updated

If you’re a witness for the prosecution you’ll usually hear about the progress of the case from a Witness Care Unit or the police. Witness Care Units are usually run by the police - they’ll act as a link between you and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

If you’re a witness for the defence, the defence lawyer or someone from their team will keep you updated about the case.

If the case hasn’t been investigated by the police but by someone else - for example the RSPCA, they’ll keep you up to date.

What they’ll let you know

The witness care officer or the defence lawyer will:

  • keep you informed about the progress of the case
  • help you with practical arrangements like childcare and transport
  • arrange help if you have any special needs - check if you can get extra help as a witness

They’ll also let you know if you’ll need to go to court - you’ll get a witness warning by phone, email or letter.

If you get a witness warning

Getting a witness warning means you'll have to go to court on the day of the trial, and give evidence if you're asked to.

Even if you get a warning, you might not have to give evidence on the day. For example, if the defendant pleads guilty.

At this stage it’s a good idea to tell your employer that you'll need to take time off if the trial goes ahead. Let them know you might not be able to give them much notice.

What happens next

You might be given a fixed date for the trial or a 2-week window when the trial is likely to take place. You might not be told the exact day until the day before.

When you gave your statement, the police or defence lawyer should have asked if there are any dates when you can't go to court. If they didn’t, let them know as soon as possible.

You should prepare for a possible change of plans - the court could cancel, postpone or move the case to a different a court. This sometimes happens at the last minute.

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