Coming forward as a witness

If you have witnessed a crime you may have concerns about reporting it. Witnesses of crime play a vital role in helping police to solve crimes and in making sure justice is served. This page explains each stage of the justice process and what you can expect as a witness.

Reporting a crime to the police

No crime is too trivial to report. Bear in mind that what may seem like a minor crime to you, may not seem like a minor crime to the victim. Even crimes that do not appear to have victims, like vandalism or graffiti, can have a negative effect on your community.

It is very important to report all crimes, because if the police do not know where the crimes are happening, they cannot take any action to prevent further incidents or catch the person responsible. Although in some cases there may be little or no evidence available and the police will not be able to investigate the matter further.

In an emergency, you should call the police on 999 (minicom 0800 112 999).

Police procedures

The police may ask you to make a statement. To do this an officer will ask you a number of questions to find out exactly what happened. The police realise that talking about what has happened can be difficult.

If a person is charged with the crime they may either be released on police bail or detained in police custody.

Going to court

When a crime has been investigated the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) will decide if there is enough evidence and if it is in the public interest to prosecute someone for the case. The PPS will also decide if prosecution at court is the best way to deal with a case.

You may not always have to give evidence in court. If the defendant is caught and pleads guilty, or if the defendant first pleads not guilty but later changes their plea to guilty you would not need to give evidence.

But if you do have to give evidence it can help if you know what to expect and how to prepare.

If you do have to give evidence, witness services will be there to help and support you before, during and after your time at court, if you want. There is also a range of special measures to help ‘vulnerable’ and ‘intimidated’ witnesses give their best evidence in court.

The trial, verdict and sentencing

If a trial takes place the prosecution and defence call and examine witnesses and present to the judge and jury opposing versions of the case. After listening to all the evidence the magistrate, or jury (if a Crown Court), will decide on whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If the defendant pleads guilty or is found guilty by the judge or jury, they are convicted and the judge will pass sentence.

Support for witnesses

If you are a witness for the prosecution, help from the witness service will be available before, during and after the trial to make sure that you are well informed and supported. There are two types of witness service available in a number of courthouses in Northern Ireland.

  • Witness Service is run for adult witnesses
  • Young Witness Service is for witnesses aged under 18 
  • Witness Service 

Witness intimidation

It is a criminal offence to threaten a witness or anyone helping the police in an investigation. If you are harassed or feel threatened in any way before, during or after court proceedings, you should tell the police immediately. The police can offer a number of measures to help you stay safe and they will take every step possible to protect you and your family throughout the process.

Compensation

If you witnessed a violent crime, you may qualify for compensation.

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