Going to court as a victim or witness

Find out about going to court as a victim or witness. It can help if you know what to expect and how to prepare.

Finding out if you have to go to court

If you report a crime to the police you will be asked to give a statement about what happened which may be used as evidence in court. It may be some time before you know whether you'll need to go to court, as cases can take a long time to prepare.

If the defendant pleads guilty to the offence you will not have to go to court or give evidence. On some occasions your evidence will be agreed by both the prosecution and the defence, which means that your statement will be read out in court without you having to give evidence.

A defendant may plead not guilty, or plead guilty, but deny an important part of the offence, which would make a difference to the sentence they could receive. In such cases, the court will need to hear evidence from witnesses in order to decide if the defendant is guilty or not.

If the case does go to court and you're required to give evidence, you will be contacted.

Find out about the court

Magistrates’ courts hear and decide on less serious criminal cases, cases involving young people and some civil and domestic cases. In a magistrates’ court or youth court (for defendants aged 17 and under), the District Judge listens to the evidence and decides if the defendant is guilty.

Although many cases are dealt with by a magistrates’ court or youth court, the more serious cases are usually sent to a Crown Court for hearing. In the Crown Court, a jury of men and women (up to 12 members of the public) decide if the defendant is guilty.

Finding out when you have to go to court

Once the court has fixed the trial date you will be advised in writing of:

  • the trial date
  • which court you need to go to
  • how to get to the court
  • your role in the courtroom
  • what facilities are available at the court

Find contact details for the Courts Service and courthouses across Northern Ireland

If you can’t make the date of the trial

You should receive enough notice of the date of the trial, but there may be times when this is not possible and only short notice can be given. Although this may be inconvenient, you will be expected to go to court as it is very difficult to change court dates.  

If you are not able to go to court on the date given, you must let the person who asked you to come to court know as soon as possible. If you are ill and your illness stops you from going to court you should also get a medical certificate from your GP.

Getting time off work to go to court

If you are worried about getting time off work to go to court you should let your employer know with as much notice as possible. It is not your choice whether to go to court or not so your employer should normally give you time off work. You can show your employer the letter that you received from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) or defence solicitor as proof that you are required to go to court.

If you are unable to persuade your employer to give you time off you should let the PPS or defence know as soon as possible. As a last resort you may be issued with a witness summons, which means you are legally required to go to court.

Claiming expenses

You will be entitled to apply for certain expenses (travel expenses and refreshment allowance) as a result of your attendance at trial. Ask the PPS or defence solicitor to explain how.

Arriving at court

You should leave enough time for your journey to the court. Bring any papers you have about the case, including the letter asking you to go to court.

You will find clear signs to help you find your way around. All cases are listed under the defendant's name. Give the receptionist or member of the security staff the name of the defendant and show them the letter asking you to go to court. They will show you where to go.  

If you are worried about meeting the defendant or their friends, tell the security personnel when you arrive. There may be a separate room where you can wait.

Wherever you wait, you should listen carefully for either your name or for your case to be called.

Giving evidence

You may be waiting to give evidence for most of the day. You should not talk to anyone, especially other witnesses, about the evidence you will be giving before you go into the witness box.

If you have made a written statement and would like to see a copy before you give evidence, ask the person who asked you to come to court, to give you a copy.

Find out more about giving evidence in court.

Witness support and protection

You can find out more about the services available during court proceedings on the ‘Special court measures for victims and witnesses’ page.

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