Support to give your evidence - ‘special measures’
If you are a victim or a witness in a case and it goes to trial you will usually be asked to give evidence.
This involves describing what happened in your own words and answering questions about it from our prosecution barrister and from the defence barrister.
This can feel daunting but there are things we can ask for to help you feel more comfortable when you give your evidence – these are called ‘special measures’.
They can be put in place for how you give your evidence at trial or sometimes they can mean that you give all your evidence before the trial happens. We’ll apply for these measures for you and the judge will make a decision about whether to grant them.
Special measures are there to support you if you need them but you don’t have to have them if you don’t want to.
Who can access this support
Vulnerable and intimidated victims and witnesses can ask for special measures.
You will be classed as a vulnerable witness:
- if you are under 18
if you have a physical or mental disability or condition that would affect your ability to give your best evidence in court. (This could include learning or social functioning difficulties.)
You’ll be classed as an intimidated witness if:
You are frightened or distressed about giving evidence and this is likely to affect your ability to give your best evidence in court.
You are a victim of rape or sexual assault
You are a victim of modern slavery
You are a victim or a witness of certain offences involving guns or knives
The police officer in your case will discuss special measures with you to understand whether might be eligible to ask for them. You should tell them if you think you should be classed as a vulnerable or intimidated witness.
What support is available
Giving some or all of your evidence before the trial
There are two special measures that can help you give some or all of your evidence before the trial.
These are currently available to all vulnerable victims and witnesses.
They are also available to victims of rape or sexual assault and modern slavery whose trial is taking place at Kingston-upon-Thames, Leeds, Liverpool, Wood Green, Harrow, Isleworth or Durham Crown Courts.
‘Evidence-in-chief' is your description of what happened to you. This special measure allows the police to video record your evidence before the trial and it will be played back during trial so that you don’t need to repeat all the details of the offence in court. You will still be asked additional questions by the prosecution barrister to clarify any issues and be cross-examined by the defence barrister during the trial. Sometimes you might hear people call this a ‘VRI’ which stands for ‘Video Recorded Interview’ or an ‘ABE’ which stands for ‘Achieving Best Evidence’ interview.
‘Cross-examination’ is when the defendant’s barrister asks you questions about your account of what happened and ‘re-examination’ is what we call any final follow up questions that the prosecution barrister asks you. This special measure allows us to record your cross-examination and re-examination before the trial. You wouldn’t have to attend the trial at all and your video-recorded evidence-in-chief and cross-examination will be played to the jury and court instead. You may still need to attend a court to record your cross-examination, but you would give your evidence from a private witness room rather than a courtroom.
Sometimes you might hear people call this special measure ‘section 28’, this is because that’s the section of the law on giving evidence which explains it.
Giving evidence during the trial
There are six special measures which can help you give evidence during the trial. The first four are available to both vulnerable and intimidated witnesses and the final two are only available to vulnerable victims and witnesses.
Screens are usually simple curtains that we place around the witness box when you are giving evidence in court. These mean that you won’t see the defendant while you give your evidence or when you’re being cross-examined. Only the judge, jury and barristers can see you and you can see them.
This is usually a television link from a private room within the main court building but sometimes you can give evidence from another location such as a different court closer to your home.
If you give evidence via live link you will be able to see whoever is asking you the questions (the barristers or the judge) but you won’t be able to see anyone else in the courtroom. However, everyone in the courtroom will be able to see you, including the defendant. We can apply for screens together with the live link to prevent the defendant from seeing you, if you would find that helpful.
This means the courtroom is cleared of everyone who doesn’t legally need to be there. If your case is likely to attract media attention, one member of the press is allowed to stay in the court.
This is aimed at helping you to feel more comfortable by making the court seem less formal.
There are two special measures which are only available to vulnerable victims and witnesses:
- Intermediaries. Intermediaries are people who can support you if you need help to fully understand and answer the questions you are being asked. An intermediary will check that the questions are asked in a way that means you can easily understand them. They will also help you share your answers clearly with the court.
- Aids to Communication. Aids to communication can include things like visual-aid boards, eye-gaze software, dolls or body-outline drawings. You can use these if you have a disability that means you need support to assist you in understanding or answering questions.