Sheriff and High Court Trials (Criminal Cases)
Staff may be called at some point in their professional career to give evidence in a criminal case. Being involved in the criminal justice system can be a daunting and unknown process for NHS staff. When witnesses are called in criminal cases they may also be victims of crime, for example, you were assaulted. As a witness, you have an important role to play by telling the court the truth about what you know or may have seen. This information is known as the witness’s evidence. The court needs witnesses to give their evidence to allow them to build up a picture of what has happened and to reach a verdict or decision. If you are a witness, it may mean you:-
- Have been a victim of a crime
- Have seen or heard something in connection with a crime
- Have information about someone accused of a crime
- Have been involved either directly or indirectly in a children’s hearing court case.
- Expert witness
There are three different people who may call (or more formally known as ‘cite’) you to be a witness:-
- The Procurator Fiscal (also known as fiscal or prosecution)
- The Defence or other Solicitor
- The Reporter to the Children’s Panel
As a witness, you will receive a letter that tells you where and when to go to court and this is called your citation. You may feel anxious about appearing in court but assistance and support is available for NHS staff called as witnesses. Court visits can be arranged for anxious staff in advance to help them become more familiar with the courtroom and court process.
It is important not to ignore your citation. If you do not turn up at the correct time and place, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest. You can contact the procurator fiscal if you have any questions, concerns or special requirements in advance of the trial.
Questioning & Cross examination
When the time has come for you to give your evidence, you will be shown to the witness box where you will remain standing to give your evidence (please also read over section on court visit). You will then be asked to swear on oath/affirmation to tell the whole truth to the Sheriff/ Judge of that courtroom.
Questioning will then begin with who you are, your qualifications, age, experience and your place of work before going in to the circumstances surrounding your involvement in the case. Try to:-
- Be calm, courteous and honest – remain objective
- Speak clearly and concisely
- Focus on the question at hand
- Take time to consider your response
- Be ready to confirm/back up your evidence
- If you can’t remember or don’t know the answer to a question – say so – and don’t guess
- If unsure of the question, ask for it to be repeated/clarified
- Cross-examiners may try to challenge your experience, qualifications – remain calm, factual and professional by giving a reasoned response
- Don’t be defensive
- Don’t react emotionally
- Be professional
By way of supporting and assisting you for upcoming trial, I can offer you:-
- Practical support and guidance on court and legal process
- Court Familiarisation Visit in advance of trial to aid you in preparation of giving your evidence on day of trial
- One to one support to address specific challenges, concerns/anxieties
- Q&A Sessions where large numbers of staff are cited to court
- Work in partnership with other agencies such as Witness Service and Victim Information and Advice (VIA) in respect of vulnerable witnesses
I would encourage you to have a read over the undernoted leaflets, one for Sheriff Court Witnesses and one for High Court Witnesses compiled by the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service COPFS.