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Common fears and worries
Who can provide you with support and answer your questions?
Bringing a case to court
The court date
Courts and court proceedings
In the courtroom
Identifying a person
Special measures available for giving evidence
Using a screen
Using a television link
Using a supporter
Further special measures
You and your child's views
Going to court
Passing on information
Outcome of a court case
Other help available
Things to remember
Useful contact address details
Special thanks to the children of Albert Primary School of Springburn and Glendale Primary School of Pollokshields.
This booklet is for parents and carers of any child witness who may be called to give evidence to the court.
- A child is someone under 16 years of age at the time the case starts. Please ask for more details about what this means.
- A child may be a witness in a criminal court case or in a children's hearing court case.
There are three different people who may call your child to be a witness:
- the procurator fiscal (also known as the fiscal or prosecution lawyer)
- the defence lawyer or defence counsel
- the reporter to the children's hearing.
Carer can mean a parent or other person who has custody of a child. It may also mean someone who is caring for the child temporarily, such as a foster carer.
This booklet is for all parents and carers in these cases.
Going to court as a witness can be very stressful for anybody. Children and young people may need extra support.
It can also be a worrying time for you.
We hope that this booklet helps to answer any questions you may have about the court and any concerns you or your child may have.
If you are also a witness there is other information that the procurator fiscal, lawyer or reporter can give you.
When helping children to prepare for court, you must never tell your child what to say or rehearse any of their answers with them.
Children's evidence may be criticised if it seems that someone has told them what to say in court.
The case may be dropped if they appear to have been coached.
COMMON FEARS AND WORRIES
Your concerns about your child are important.
If you are worried that any part of the legal process may upset your child, there are people who can advise and provide you with support.
Details about who can help answer your questions.
Your child may be:
- a victim of a crime
- involved in children's hearing court proceedings
- a witness in a case
- an accused person in a trial who is giving evidence as a witness.
Some children cope well with being a witness but others can find it stressful and difficult.
It is very natural for a young witness to feel anxious and you should encourage them to talk to you about what is worrying them.
Here are some common things that children have said worry them most.
- Seeing someone they are frightened of at the court: Discuss this with the procurator fiscal, lawyer or reporter. It may be possible to make special arrangements at the court so that your child does not see someone they are frightened of. The law has given the court special powers to help support your child when they give their evidence. Details of these are explained later in the booklet.
- Being scared to tell the truth: Re-assure your child that the job of a witness is to help the court and that it's right to tell the truth.
- How to cope with the questions: Tell your child to take their time and to listen carefully. They don't have to hurry. If they don't understand something, it's okay to say so. If they can't remember, it's okay to say so.
- What if they get confused?: Many children feel embarrassed in case they make a fool of themselves or people in the court think they are stupid. It's also okay to tell the court if they get mixed up and feel they need to ask for a break.
- What to say at school or to friends: It might help for a teacher to know your child is going through a difficult time. Other children don't need to know. It is up to you and your child to decide what you say to other people.
CHANGES IN BEHAVIOUR
A few children feel so worried about being a witness, it can affect their everyday behaviour.
Please tell the procurator fiscal, lawyer, reporter, police or social worker if your child has been having any special problems.
You should always try to listen to what your child is saying, even if you don't understand why they feel a certain way.
The most important thing is for your child to know they can tell someone they are worried, talk about their feelings and receive the support they need.
If your child is having a lot of problems, you may want them to have therapy or counselling. This can sometimes be a good idea. You will probably want to talk to your doctor or a social worker about this. Therapy or counselling does not have to be delayed. Please remember to tell the procurator fiscal, lawyer or reporter if the therapy or counselling is due to start before the court case.
Tell your child:
- it's always okay to tell the truth
- they are doing a very important job
- they are not responsible for what the court decides to do
YOUR OWN FEARS AND CONCERNS
Many parents also need support around this time. It is not unusual for some parents to feel angry about what has happened and worried about how to support their child. Don't be nervous or embarrassed about your own feelings. There are people you can ask for help or advice.
Sometimes, it can be difficult to hide your feelings all of the time when your child is around. If your child thinks you are angry or upset, they might worry that it's their fault. This could add to their worries. Try to reassure your child that you are not angry with them.
Both you and your child will probably feel more confident and less worried if you understand what will happen before and during the court case.
If you have been given this booklet, your child or children should also have been given a witness booklet, according to their age.
There are two booklets: one for young children and one for young people up to age 15.
It is important that your child reads their booklet or someone reads it to them and helps them understand what it means to be a witness.
WHO CAN PROVIDE YOU WITH SUPPORT AND ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS?
The procurator fiscal: The procurator fiscal is the lawyer who makes the decision about whether or not to bring a criminal case to court. They will be able to answer some of your questions.
Victim Information and Advice ( VIA): You may have been sent a letter and some other leaflets from someone at VIA who works with the procurator fiscal. Their leaflets will tell you about the different court procedures. You can contact VIA to ask for information about the case and to talk about your child's worries or difficulties.
The children's reporter: In children's hearing court cases, the children's reporter looks after the child's interests. In some cases there is also a safeguarder, who will look after the child's interests. They will be able to answer some of your questions and be able to arrange for you to have additional support, perhaps through a social worker.
Lawyers: Sometimes in criminal cases or in children's hearing court cases, a lawyer may call a child as a witness. The lawyer should give you information and may refer you to the court Witness Service for more help and advice.
The police: Your child may have spoken to a police officer. They may be able to help you find out what is happening with the court case.
The social worker: Your child may also have spoken to a social worker. Social workers can support children (and adults) who need extra help. Your local social work office may be able to give you some advice about other support agencies or counsellors.
Victim Support Scotland's Witness Service: Every sheriff court and high court has a witness service which provides advice, assistance and support to any witness, parent or carer who asks for help. The Witness Service usually arranges visits to the court. VIA may also have given you information about this service.
Victim Support Scotland's community-based services: There are trained victim support volunteers who can provide emotional and practical support and information to victims and some witnesses. This includes children and young people and their parents.
You may wish to use the page at the back of this booklet to note down the names and telephone numbers of the people and agencies who are directly helping you.
BRINGING A CASE TO COURT
If your child is a witness, it may mean that they have:
- been a victim of a crime;
- seen or heard something in connection with a crime or
- been involved, either directly or indirectly, in a children's hearing court case.
Your child may have already given a statement to the police, or to a lawyer. The police will have sent a report to the procurator fiscal and or the children's reporter.
The procurator fiscal makes an independent decision about whether a criminal case should proceed to court.
The children's reporter makes the independent decision about whether a case needs to go to a children's hearing. The hearing may then refer the case to court.
A criminal case will usually go to court if there is likely to be enough evidence that a crime has been committed by a particular person. If the person pleads 'not guilty', there will be a trial and witnesses will be expected to give evidence. The judge and perhaps a jury will hear all the evidence and will reach a verdict about whether the accused is guilty or not. If the accused is found guilty, the judge will make a decision about any punishment. You can read more about these court procedures in the leaflets from VIA.
A children's hearing case will go to court if the people involved do not agree about what has happened or if the child is too young to understand. At court, the sheriff will hear all the evidence and will decide if something has happened or if the concerns about a child have been proved. If the sheriff agrees with the reporter's case, it will be sent back to the children's hearing to decide what help is needed for the child. The sheriff does not decide the final outcome; the subsequent children's hearing will decide this.
Precognition: When the procurator fiscal is preparing a criminal case, she or he will usually send you a letter or 'citation' to arrange to meet and talk to your child. The statement taken at this meeting is called precognition.
The reporter in a children's hearing court case usually relies on reports and statements to prepare the case, but sometimes they may want to meet your child either for precognition or for general preparation. Sometimes a safeguarder may be appointed to look after your child's interest, and may visit your child to help in preparation.
The other lawyers may also be in touch about speaking to your child. This is normal procedure and can be helpful. You and your child should decide where these interviews should take place. You may not want the lawyers coming to your house, or you may find this is more convenient for you.
One or more lawyers may get in touch. If your child is upset about any of these interviews you may want to refuse to allow your child to be interviewed.
You should always discuss this with the person who has called your child as a witness.
It is usually appropriate for a support person to accompany your child during any interviews. You should think about who your child might want to support them. For example, this may be you, another relative, family friend, social worker or someone from VIA. Sometimes, it might not be appropriate for the support person to be someone who might also be a witness in the case.
Sometimes an accused person does not have a lawyer and may ask to interview witnesses when preparing their case. If this happens, and you are not sure what to do, you should speak to the person who has called your child to be a witness.
It is important to know that the law does not allow an accused person to interview your child, if:
- your child is under the age of 12;
- the accused is charged with a crime involving violence or indecent behaviour; or
- your child has been the victim of indecent behaviour at any age.
THE COURT DATE
Following precognition, your child will then receive a further citation or letter giving them a date for the court case to start.
This citation is a formal notice to attend court as a witness. This must not be ignored.
It is important that your child knows that they must attend as indicated in the citation.
You should let the procurator fiscal, reporter or lawyer know immediately if there is some important reason why the date on the citation may be difficult for you or your child, for example, if your child is sitting an exam at school.
COURTS AND COURT PROCEEDINGS
There are courts all over Scotland and they deal with different sorts of cases.
Solemn proceedings: These are criminal cases where there is a jury to decide the verdict. The jury is made up of 15 members of the public. They must listen to all of the evidence and reach a verdict.
Summary proceedings: These are criminal cases where there is no jury. It is the sheriff who makes the decision.
Children's hearing court proceedings: These are much less formal. Cases are sometimes held in a smaller room than a court and there are no members of the public present. There is no jury and it is always the sheriff who makes the decision.
IN THE COURTROOM
The Judge or Sheriff: The judge or sheriff is in charge of all court proceedings. Their job involves making sure that everything is done fairly within the law and that the court rules and legal proceedings are followed.
The Procurator Fiscal or Advocate Depute: This is the prosecution lawyer who may have asked your child to be a witness in a criminal court case. They will ask questions in court so that witnesses can give their evidence.
The Reporter: This is the person who looks after the child's interests in children's hearing court cases and may have asked your child to be a witness. They will ask questions in court so that your child can give their evidence.
Other Lawyers: There may be one or more other lawyers in court. They may ask questions about a witness's evidence. The lawyer may be the person who asked your child to be a witness.
The accused: In a criminal case, the person accused of breaking the law will always be in the courtroom and will be able to see and hear everything.
The public: Criminal courts are usually open to the public so there may be people sitting in the back of the courtroom watching and listening to the witnesses and lawyers. When young people give evidence in court, especially if their evidence may be about indecent behaviour, the judge can clear the court of all members of the public. Tell someone what your child thinks about this.
Members of the public are not allowed in a children's hearing court case.
In children's hearing court cases, the family, or other relevant persons directly involved in the case, may be present in the courtroom. If a safeguarder has been appointed, they may also be present.
In cases which are not children's hearing court cases, the judge and lawyers usually wear a gown over their clothes and a wig. When a young person is a witness, the judge and lawyers are often asked to leave their gowns and wigs off so that they appear less formal. You should ask your child if they would prefer this to happen.
Some of the adults in the court may have met your child before, e.g. the procurator fiscal or the reporter. It may be possible for your child to meet all the lawyers who will be asking the questions before they start giving their evidence. This may make your child feel more relaxed.
If you think it would help your child to meet all the lawyers, tell the person who sent the citation.
Witnesses are called into court to give their evidence one at a time.
Remember to tell the procurator fiscal, reporter or lawyer if your child does not want their address read out loud to the court.
EXAMINATION AND CROSS-EXAMINATION
The procurator fiscal or reporter and each of the lawyers will all get a chance to ask questions to help your child say what they know, and to check they are telling the truth. This is known as examination and cross-examination.
It is important that your child understands they should just keep telling the truth.
Some questions may be quite personal and it is important that your child knows that it is okay to answer these questions even if they have to use embarrassing words.
There are a number of special measures to help your child give their evidence. These special measures are described in this booklet and in the booklets for children and young people. You should read your child's booklet and try to help them understand what it means to be a witness. This may help them to be more confident.
You should try to make sure that your child understands that it is okay to say they don't understand a question. You should also make sure they know that it's okay to correct people in the courtroom if they have not understood their answer properly.
IDENTIFYING A PERSON
Your child may have already identified a person before coming to court. They may have attended an identity parade or something similar. If so, they may not need to do it again at court.
However in some cases, your child may need to 'identify' the person they are speaking about at court.
This may be done in different ways.
- Your child may be asked to look around the courtroom and point to the person if they see them.
- Someone else may be asked to be a witness so they can tell the court who your child is talking about. This might happen if the child knows the person and can refer to them by name.
SPECIAL MEASURES AVAILABLE FOR GIVING EVIDENCE
The law can help a child be a witness by increasing the number of support measures available to help them participate more fully in both criminal and children's hearing court proceedings. These are known as 'special measures'.
Some special measures are standard and all child witnesses are now entitled to use these.
These are, the use of:
- a television link outwith the courtroom
- a screen in the courtroom
- a supporter with either the television link or the screen.
Your child will be asked if they prefer to use a screen or a TV link when they give evidence at the court. It is very important that your child has a chance to understand what these special measures are and to say which they would prefer to use.
The procurator fiscal, reporter or lawyer must tell you and your child about the special measures.
Your views will be taken into account.
You should always be told what special measure(s) have been agreed so that you can help your child to prepare.
USING A SCREEN
Using a screen in the courtroom may help if your child:
- is not concerned about going into the courtroom and speaking in front of the judge and lawyers and possibly a jury,
- but is concerned about seeing the accused or other person they may be giving evidence about.
The screen is put up as a 'room divider' or curtain beside the witness box, between your child and the accused or other person. Your child cannot see anyone on the other side of the screen.
It is important for your child to know that the accused or other people on the other side of the screen will be able to see them through a court television monitor when they are giving their evidence.
If your child wants a supporter, they will be able to sit with them even when a screen is used.
USING A TELEVISION LINK
If your child is likely to be particularly anxious by being in the courtroom full of people, they may find it better to use the television link.
This will help if:
- they are very shy about speaking in front of a lot of strangers;
- they do not want to be in the same room as the accused or other person.
The television link room is separate to the courtroom. It is usually in the same building as the court but can also be set up in a different building for some children under 12 years of age, and some other children if there is a special reason why they shouldn't come to court.
The television is linked to the courtroom where the judge and lawyers also have television monitors and cameras. The judge controls all the cameras.
When these are switched on, your child will be able to see and hear the judge or lawyers one at a time and they will be able to see and hear your child.
Make sure that your child understands that even though the television link will prevent them from seeing the accused or other person, the accused or other person will still be able to see and hear them when they are giving their evidence.
USING A SUPPORTER
If your child has chosen a screen or a television link, the court will also want to know if they would like a supporter to sit with them when they are giving their evidence.
A supporter can help to make your child less nervous by sitting near them when they are being asked questions. They cannot help your child to answer any questions and must not interrupt them or tell them what to say. They can offer support and reassurance before your child gives evidence and can keep your child company during any breaks.
It can be quite difficult to decide who the support person should be so you need to listen carefully to how your child feels about this. It should be someone your child has met and feels comfortable with, so that they feel less anxious about giving their evidence.
Most parents or carers assume that they will be the best support person and should sit with their child during the questioning. However, there are some things you may want to consider:
- if you are also called as a witness, you won't be able to be your child's support person unless you have finished giving your evidence;
- some children may be very self-conscious and want to protect you from hearing the details of the case. Your child may feel more comfortable with another relative or someone from a support agency;
- some children may be reassured if they know that you are waiting for them in another room;
- you may already know too many details about the case and the court may think that you could influence what your child says.
You also need to think about how you might react if you hear your child's evidence. If you think you might get upset in court, this could cause your child to also get upset, so you may decide that it is best for your child if you stay in the waiting room.
In criminal cases, it is very common for a representative of the Witness Service to sit with children when they are giving their evidence. Other support persons could be someone from another support organisation, another relative, a family friend, a social worker or a teacher.
In these cases, the Witness Service or VIA can usually help you and your child to make a decision.
In children's hearing court cases, the reporter or safeguarder will help you and your child to decide.
If your child is not using a screen or television link, they may still want to have a supporter in court and you should speak to the person who has asked them to be a witness about this.
FURTHER SPECIAL MEASURES
There are some additional special measures which may help your child but these are at the discretion of the court. The lawyers, VIA, Witness Service or reporter can tell you more about these and their appropriateness to the case.
If there was a video or audio taped interview between your child and the police, or a written statement, the judge may be asked to allow this to be played or read out in court.
Your child may be asked to watch or listen and then may be asked further questions. They may want to choose a screen or television link to do this.
This further special measure is known as using a 'prior statement'.
From November 2005, in some cases, the procurator fiscal, reporter or the lawyer may ask the court to hear your child give their evidence before the court case starts. This may be helpful if the court case is going to be delayed for a long time.
This is known as taking evidence on commission.
If they are considering this, they will talk to you and explain what it means and how it will be done.
YOU AND YOUR CHILD'S VIEWS
All children must be asked what special measures they want to use when giving their evidence. You will also be asked for your views.
It is quite common for a child and their parent or carer to disagree about what special measures to use.
It is natural for a parent or carer to want to protect their child as much as possible, however sometimes your child can feel more confident than you think. The court will pay particular attention to what your child wants.
Encourage your child to tell the procurator fiscal, reporter, VIA or lawyer, what things are worrying them. They will then be able to offer some further advice on the different special measures and help your child decide which one is best for them.
Your child may already have an idea after reading their witness booklet, or they may need to visit a courtroom before making their mind up. It may also be possible to look at a courtroom and the special measures on a CDROM.
Remember that children can be affected by what adults think and you should try to listen to your child and not to influence their decision.
A young person may not wish to use any special measures and would rather go into the courtroom without any extra help. If your child does not want to use a special measure their views will be considered.
Children may also change their minds about what special measures they want and you should pass any information about this onto the people involved.
GOING TO COURT
Most witnesses come into the court building through the main public door. When your child arrives they will be asked to sit in the main waiting room, perhaps with other witnesses.
If you think that your child may find it upsetting to see lots of people at the court and may be too nervous to sit beside other witnesses, you should ask if there is a private door and a private waiting room.
Arrangements can be made in advance and the court Witness Service staff will always do their best to help. These are things you should talk to VIA or the Witness Service or reporter about.
In criminal cases, if you are not the support person and you are not a witness, you may be thinking about coming to court so that you can go into the public area of the court to listen to what is said. Before deciding about this, try to find out how your child feels about this. In some cases, the court clears the public area when children are giving their evidence.
You should check with the court staff whether you can sit in the public area.
In children's hearing court cases, if the case is about your child and you are a relevant person, you will be entitled to be there. If you are giving evidence too, you will have to do this before the child gives their evidence. You can clarify this with the reporter.
It is official policy to give priority to any case involving a child witness and to keep a child's waiting time down to a minimum.
Cases are dealt with as quickly as possible but some criminal cases can take a long time to come to court. Even after you get a date, the case may be postponed for a number of different reasons. This may be unavoidable.
In children's hearing court cases, special timescales apply to ensure the case is heard as quickly as possible.
You will already know that courts are very busy and a lot of planning and preparation is required before a case is ready to start.
Some problems cannot be predicted, such as people being ill. It is usual for witnesses and families to feel frustrated about any delays.
Sometimes problems can occur on the day. You may be asked to return on another day. The court will try to minimise the waiting time for child witnesses.
If you are concerned about the delays, you should speak to the procurator fiscal, reporter or lawyer.
Even once the case starts, delays can occur and some children have to wait quite a long time before it is their turn to give evidence. It may be that the witness giving evidence before your child is taking longer than expected.
Children can find waiting very boring and it is a good idea to bring something for you both to do to pass the time such as books, magazines or comics. A young child may also want one of their favourite toys.
Some courts have a cafeteria and most have a vending machine for snack or drinks. However, you should check this in advance as you may wish to bring a snack with you.
No one finds it easy to do something for the first time and most children have not been to a court before. Most people feel better about being a witness if they know what to expect and have visited the court beforehand.
A visit to the court is especially helpful when deciding what special measure to choose. If your child is giving their evidence from a television link room in another building they should visit that instead.
These visits will usually be arranged with VIA, the Witness Service, the reporter or the lawyer.
Your child may prefer to look at a courtroom and the special measures on a CDROM. Ask the person calling your child as a witness to see the CDROM.
PASSING ON INFORMATION
No one knows your child better than you do. It helps if you can speak with the procurator fiscal, reporter, safeguarder or lawyer and tell them what might help your child give their evidence. VIA and the Witness Service will also be pleased to listen to you.
Please remember it is important to pass on any information which may affect your child being a witness. It is especially important to tell someone about the following things:
- How much does your child understand about what is happening?
- What is your child's level of understanding?
- What is your child's attention span like? How good is he or she at concentrating?
- How confident is your child?
- Is your child very shy or self-conscious?
- Is your child upset about being interviewed?
- Does your child have any speech, hearing or sight difficulties?
- Does your child have any learning or physical disability?
- Does your child take any medicines?
- Is your child attending a therapist or special clinic?
- What things about the court is your child worried about?
- Are there dates or times to avoid, for example, holidays or times of the day when a young child has a nap?
- What 'special' words does your child use, for example, for people or body parts (if they have to use them during giving their evidence)?
OUTCOME of a COURT CASE
It is never possible to predict how long each court case will last. Some cases last only one day; others can go on for several days or longer. It usually depends on how many witnesses there are and how long each witness takes to give their evidence.
When the lawyers have finished asking your child questions, the judge will let them know when they are finished and can leave. The support person can check if they are not sure. Your child is then finished being a witness and should not have to come back.
When the evidence of all witnesses has been heard, the judge, sheriff (or jury) must reach their verdict or make their decision.
In a criminal case there are three verdicts:
- Guilty means that the evidence has been enough to prove that the accused person committed the crime or part of the crime. The judge will then be asked to consider any sentence or punishment.
- Not proven or not guilty means there was not enough evidence to prove the accused was guilty 'beyond reasonable doubt', or that the judge or jury did not believe that the accused had committed the crime. Both these verdicts mean that the accused will be excused from the court and will be free to leave.
In a children's hearing court case, the sheriff will decide what has been proven and whether the case should be returned to the children's hearing or not. It is the children's hearing that will decide what happens after that.
In criminal cases, someone will let you know the final outcome. In children's hearing court cases, where a child's privacy is protected, this information may be more limited.
If you would like to talk to someone or to have an explanation of a particular decision or sentence, you should contact VIA, the reporter or lawyer.
OTHER HELP AVAILABLE
Criminal Injuries Compensation Claims: If your child has been the victim of a crime you may want to consider an application for criminal injuries compensation on their behalf.
You can get a claim form from:
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority ( CICA)
300 Bath Street
Telephone: 0141 331 2726
If you need help in completing the form, you can ask at your local Victim Support office or a lawyer.
Victim Notification Scheme: If your child has been the victim of a crime and if the accused has been sent to prison for four years or more, you and your child will be eligible to take part in the Victim Notification Scheme. This scheme provides information to victims and families when an accused person is due to be released from prison. If you are eligible, you will receive a letter and leaflet about this from VIA.
Victim Support Scotland: In all cases, you may find it helpful to talk to the local support services. The Victim Support Scotland helpline can put you in touch with your local office, Tel: 0845 603 0213. You can find out more about these local services from the court Witness Service or VIA.
Scottish Prisoners' Families Helpline: If you or your child witness are related to an accused person who may be sent to prison and you need information or a listening ear for support, you can contact the Helpline on Freephone: 0500 83 93 83
You may also wish to give some feedback about how the services helped your child and how they could be improved.
If you have any comments that would help child witnesses and their carers in the future, please let VIA, the children's reporter or the lawyer know. The Witness Service may also invite you to give your comments.
THINGS TO REMEMBER
All of the people involved in bringing this case to court will understand that it may be a difficult time for you and your child. Please talk to them about your concerns and fears. They are there to help you.
- This booklet and the child witness booklets should help you and your child understand what it means to be a witness.
- Make sure that your child understands their witness booklet and gets a chance to ask any questions.
- If you and your child have not already been offered a court visit, ask for one soon.
- Make sure you have all the information you need before the start of the court case.
- Check you know where the court or TV link room is, and how you are going to get there.
You child's most important job as a witness is to tell the truth.
Your most important job is to help your child feel more confident about this.
Talk to them about the importance of telling the truth.
You must NEVER tell your child what to say or rehearse any of their answers with them.
USEFUL CONTACT ADDRESS DETAILS
Victim Information and Advice ( VIA):
Victim Support Scotland:
Further copies of this document are available, on request, in audio, large print format and in community languages. Please contact 0131 244 2213.