Young witnesses

Your child should report any crime they see to the police. Their help could have a real impact and prevent further crimes taking place - just as their evidence as a defence witness could make sure that innocent people are not convicted.

How to report a crime

  • in an emergency, dial 999 or 18000 for textphone users
  • if your child does not want to give their name, they can give information anonymously to the independent charity using the freephone Crimestoppers helpline
  • for non-urgent matters your child can call the police on 101 (Tesco mobile or giffgaff users call 028 90 650222) or they can call into their local police station during opening hours
  • for hate related incidents only your child can visit the PSNI website and report this online 
  • if your child really does not wish to report the crime themselves, then you, or someone else, can report it for them
  • Police Service of Northern Ireland

The police take crime seriously and your child can expect to be treated with sensitivity and respect. If your child is the victim of a crime, the police work hard to make sure that they are kept informed about what is happening with the investigation. The police will also let your child know about the support services that are available, should they need them.

When your child reports a crime they have seen, they'll be asked to give a statement to the police. It may be some time before your child knows whether they’ll need to go to court as some cases can take a long time to prepare. If the case does go to court and they are required to give evidence, your child will be contacted.

Attending court

If your child is a witness, who's not a victim, it's less likely that they'll be asked to go to court. Your child’s written or video-recorded statement may be enough and they may not have to appear in court at all. This is usually true in cases where the accused has pleaded guilty.

They will probably have to go to court if the defendant pleads not guilty or denies an important part of the charge.

It's a criminal offence to intimidate or harass a witness. If this happens to your child, they must tell the police immediately. In extreme circumstances, the police may allow your child to go onto the witness protection scheme.

Protecting the witness in court

Your child may feel scared about what will happen to them if they give evidence. There are ways to put them at ease and help them tell what they saw.

These include screens to prevent witnesses from seeing the accused person or a live TV link, so they don't have to be in the courtroom.

Your child should tell the police before attending court if they feel that they may need to use these measures. You can do this for them if you wish.

Video evidence

In some cases involving sexual or violent offences, the court will allow the video evidence of a young witness under 18 to be played in court and for the young person to be asked questions by live video link.

The court may also allow a young witness under 18 to give their evidence by live TV link from another place and to be asked questions by live TV link.

Youth courts

Most trials involving people between 10 and 18 are in youth courts, a special type of court. Youth courts are not open to the public and the judge and lay magistrates have special training for cases involving children.

Support for young witnesses

If your child is a witness for the prosecution, help is available from the Young Witness Service run by the NSPCC. This is for witnesses under 18 and help is available before, during and after the trial to make sure that they know what is happening. The Young Witness Service can be used in all crown courts, magistrates’, youth and county courts.

The aim is to help prosecution witnesses and victims, along with their families and friends, to deal with going to court and giving evidence. Trained volunteers from the service provide free help including:

  • someone to talk to in confidence
  • someone to talk to about their wishes, fears and concerns about going to court
  • the chance to visit the court before your child has to give evidence, a quiet place to wait and other practical help
  • where possible, a look around the court room before your child is called as a witness
  • going with the young witness in the live TV link
  • Young Witness Service 

If your child is a defence witness, visits can also be arranged by the defence solicitor or the Northern Ireland and Tribunals Court Service.

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