Witness services and special court measures
If you are a victim or witness for the prosecution, witness services will be available before, during and after the trial to make sure that you are well informed and supported.
The aim of witness services is to help prosecution witnesses, and their families and friends, to deal with the experience of going to court and giving evidence. There are two types of witness service available:
- one for adult witnesses, run by Victim Support NI (the Witness Service)
- one for witnesses under the age of 18 (the Young Witness Service), run by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)
Both the Witness Service and the Young Witness Service are available in all courts.
Both witness services normally phone or write to witnesses before the court hearing to offer their services, provided that you have given consent for your details to be passed on. Trained volunteers and staff from the services provide a free and confidential service including:
- having someone to talk to
- providing information on court procedures
- going with you to the court and letting you look around the courtroom before you are called as a witness
- providing a quiet place for you to wait before and during the hearing
- having someone to go with you into the courtroom or the live TV link room when you give evidence
- giving practical help with things such as expense forms
- putting you in touch with people who can answer specific legal questions (the witness services do not discuss evidence with witnesses)
- giving you a chance to talk over the case once it is over, to get more help or information
Witnesses can also contact Victim Support NI and NSPCC directly.
- Victim Support Northern Ireland (contacts section)
- National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children
Special court measures
Special measures are measures which have been put in place to help vulnerable and intimidated witnesses give their best possible evidence in court.
Vulnerable witnesses include children under 17 years of age (soon to be changed to 18 years). In addition, there are three other types of vulnerable witness:
- those who have a mental disorder
- those who are significantly impaired in relation to intelligence and social functioning
- those who have a physical disability
Intimidated witnesses are those whose quality of testimony is likely to be diminished by reason of fear or distress at the prospect of giving evidence. Victims in cases of sexual assault are defined as falling into this category. Other witnesses who may be considered to be intimidated witnesses include:
- those who have experienced domestic violence
- those who have experienced past or repeat harassment and bullying, or repeat victimisation
- those who self-neglect and self-harm
- the elderly and frail
- witnesses to murder
- those who are making allegations against professionals or carers
Applying for special measures
If your case is passed to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), and you become a prosecution witness, the prosecutor will consider applying for special measures to help you when giving evidence in court. If you are eligible, they will make an application to the court. The judge at that hearing will decide whether you should be allowed to use special measures in court.
If a special measure application has been granted, you will be told by the prosecutor. They will explain to you how the special measure(s) will be used at court.
Special measures include:
- screens around the witness box to prevent you from having to see the defendant and the defendant from seeing you - you will still be seen by others in the court including the judge, jury, lawyers and barristers and, in some courts, the public gallery
- giving evidence via a live TV link outside the courtroom - you will be able to see the courtroom and people in the courtroom, including the defendant, will be able to see you on a television screen
- giving evidence in private - members of the public and the press can be excluded from the court in appropriate cases
- judges and barristers removing their wigs and gowns in the Crown Court to make the proceedings seem less intimidating
- a video recorded interview with you before the trial to be admitted by the court as your evidence - a live link or screen can be used when you are cross-examined by the defence
- a communicator or interpreter