Courtrooms can be a daunting place if you have to visit for a hearing or as a witness or a victim so we’ve put together a guide on how you can prepare for your day in court and navigate your way through court proceedings. These tips will help to ensure the day goes as smoothly as possible and make you feel more comfortable and confident in the courtroom.
1. Pre-Trial Checklist or Questionnaire
When attending a trial at court, you will be sent a pre-trial checklist or questionnaire to fill out and review, ensuring that you are fully prepared for your trial and are in compliance with court directives and proceedings.
The pre-trial review questionnaire will cover areas like making sure you’ve followed all the directions given to you by the court and which directions are still left to complete. It will also require you to mark off whether the court has given permission for you to use written evidence from experts in your trial and give details on other witnesses and your legal representation.
Another name for the questionnaire is the pre-trial checklist. It covers all the same bases in a slightly different format. You can send your pre-trial checklist with a number of other important documents for the court including but not limited to a draft order, an estimate of costs and a proposed timetable for the trial.
2. Special Measures in a Courtroom
Special measures are put into place in a courtroom when vulnerable or intimidated witnesses need some extra help. These measures aim to help the witnesses give evidence as best as they can and soothe any stress or anxiety they have about being on the stand in court.
The special measures are part of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and can be utilised for witnesses in both prosecution and defense. Vulnerable witnesses include minors and those suffering from mental and physical disabilities while intimidated witnesses can include those suffering from severe stress at the thought of testifying. This often includes witnesses to murders or victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or kidnappings.
The special measures the act puts into place include:
- Screens to shield the witness or victim.
- Live or pre-recorded links so that the witness or victim doesn’t have to be in the same room as the defendant when giving their testimony.
- Aids to help the witness or victim communicate.
- The removal of wigs and gowns by court officials to make witnesses or victims feel more comfortable.
3. Representing Yourself in the Courtroom
In some court cases, the defendant may represent themselves either because they want to speak for themselves directly or because they can’t afford the legal fees of a solicitor or barrister.
If you’re thinking of representing yourself in court, first check to find out whether you’re eligible for legal aid. Legal aid is most commonly available for defendants in civil cases and you will have to enquire further with a legal representative about whether you can apply for criminal legal aid.
When you represent yourself in court, you will be what is known as a ‘litigant in person’. Though even without the aid of a solicitor or barrister in your case, it’s a good idea to bring along some help or support so you don’t have to go through the trial completely alone. This will include bringing along a friend or family member, an adviser from Citizen’s Advice or a volunteer from the Support Through Court scheme.
The Citizen’s Advice adviser will be able to provide you with free legal aid and they can also help with court claims and legal documents you need help with. Support Through Court is a charity that offers free help to those attending court without a legal representative. They will give you advice on what to say in court and help you with any legal documentation you need filling out.
4. Attending Court as a Child Witness
Sometimes, a child or teenage witness may be required to give evidence in court so it’s important that they are properly prepared for their moment on the stand to assuage as much of the stress and discomfort as possible.
It’s often recommended that you take your child to the courtroom before the date of the trial or hearing. They can become familiar with the layout of the court so that it isn’t so foreign or daunting when they have to give their testimony.
Young witnesses may find it easier to give their evidence and testimony away from the formal structure of court. This can be done through a TV link and can either be live or pre-recorded as set out in the special measures for vulnerable witnesses.
When it comes to answering questions, an intermediary will be present to help assist your child if they don’t understand the question, making the court proceedings easier to understand and helping them to give as much detail as possible to help the judge and jury make their verdict.
5. Victim and Witness Support in Court
If you are attending court as a victim or witness, you will be entitled to receiving victim or witness support to help you feel comfortable and safe when giving your testimony and helping to ease the stress of your time in court.
A member of the Citizens Advice Witness Service will be present in court and can support you while you’re presenting your evidence and give advice on managing your stress and worries about the court proceedings and your role in them.
Younger witnesses can also take advantage of Childline who give you information about the ins and outs of court to get you familiar with the process if you have any worries. NSPCC’s Young Witness Service also aims to alleviate stress as well as providing support with the hopes of preventing further trauma. There is an adult equivalent of this service simply called The Witness Service and both services are available in any court.
Victims of crimes will be able to take full advantage of the Victim Support charity. They provide support for victims of crimes before, during and after court, making sure you or your loved one always get as much help as possible.
Victim Support has a Supportline for people to call and a live chat feature so people can get advice and help in whatever way makes them feel most comfortable. They will provide you with extra aid in court as well.
After the trial is over, the Witness Care Unit will be in touch to inform you of whether the defendant was convicted and what their sentence means for you and your safety. They will also let you know whether the sentence is being appealed and what the results of any hearings are.
Courtroom procedures are put into place to make court as safe as possible for witnesses and victims who are testifying as well as providing aid and assistance to defendants in order for the trial or hearing to go off without a hitch.
There are multiple support systems in place designed to alleviate any concerns you have about your impending court appointment. Whatever your reason for going to court is, we hope that these tips can help you to understand the process of court proceedings better and prepare in whatever way you need.