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Being a witness: Helping people with learning disabilities who go to court: A guide for carers

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5. What you can do on the day

Here are some things you can do on the day of the court case.

You can go with the witness to court

On the day of the court case you can go with the witness to the court and wait with them until they are called to give their evidence. They should take the citation letter with them and report to the main reception desk unless they have made a different arrangement in advance with the Witness Service or court official.

You can be prepared for a long wait

There may be a lot of waiting and it can be boring. Take refreshments if the court has no facilities and something to read or do while waiting. It is best not to take anything noisy. There may be other witnesses in the waiting room. The person must not discuss their evidence with other witnesses.

being prepared for a long wait image

Once the person has been called to give evidence you may be able to stay in the waiting room until they have finished or go and sit in the public gallery. In children's hearing court cases, you will not be allowed into the courtroom. Ask the Witness Service or court staff what is possible.

You may be a supporter (one of the special measures)

The court may have decided that the witness is particularly vulnerable and they can have a supporter with them while they give their evidence. The witness can suggest who they would like to be their supporter but the final decision is up to the judge or sheriff. It can be a good idea if the supporter is someone that the person knows. It is possible for a family member, or other carer who is not a witness in the case, to be the supporter if the judge or sheriff agrees.

A supporter sits alongside the person while they give their evidence. A supporter must behave neutrally and not influence the witness in any way. If the judge or sheriff agrees that you can be the supporter, you are not allowed to speak to or touch the witness or indicate your opinion of their evidence, e.g. by nodding or shaking your head, or smiling.

being a supporter image

Before agreeing to be the supporter think about whether you will be able to remain neutral and emotionally detached.

Depending on the circumstances of the case and your relationship with the witness, this can be difficult. It may be better for someone else to be the supporter, e.g. someone from the Witness Service or other voluntary organisation.

If you are also a witness in the case, you will not be allowed to act as a supporter unless you have already given your own evidence. If you already know too much information about the court case, you may not be suitable to be the supporter.

If it is agreed that you can be the supporter, ask the person who cited the witness for guidance on the role and behaviour of a supporter. Ask them to explain what you can and cannot do in court.

small signpost imageBeing a witness - the use of special measures - a booklet for adult witnesses.

You can think about sitting in the public gallery

You may be able to go into the public gallery and watch the court case. The person you are caring for may be reassured by knowing that you are in the courtroom even if you cannot sit near them when they give their evidence. On the other hand, they may prefer for you to wait outside while they give their evidence. Ask them what they would prefer.

You will not be able to sit in the public gallery if you are a witness in the case and have still to give your evidence.

Sometimes the court is cleared and no members of the public are allowed into the courtroom. This happens in children's hearing court cases. Check with the Witness Service or court staff if you can sit in the public gallery.