Information for witnesses
Information for witnesses
Witnesses play a vital role in helping the police solve crimes and deliver justice. The criminal justice system cannot work without witnesses, and they are the most important element in bringing offenders to justice.
Witnesses can be:
- Victims of crime
- Someone who saw a crime or incident
- Someone who knows something about a crime or incident
- Someone with specialist knowledge
- Someone who knows someone involved in a case (character witness)
If you have witnessed a crime it is vital you report it because the information you provide could ensure a criminal is brought to justice. This could prevent further crimes from being committed and protect others from becoming victims.
All crimes, even those without obvious victims, have a negative effect on our neighbours, so reporting what you know will also be helping your community.
You may be nervous about coming forward. Cambridgeshire Constabulary is committed to supporting you as a witness of crime. We will support you emotionally and practically to help you deal with any impact from what you have witnessed. We will also support you so that you feel confident in the Criminal Justice system and able to make a statement and give evidence in court if necessary.
Making a Statement
If you have witnessed a crime you may be asked to make a statement to the police, either at the time it is reported or later on. This is a written or video recorded account of what happened. A police officer will ask you questions and write down what you have said. You will be asked to read and sign it. When you sign a witness statement you are saying that you agree the statement is a true account of your experience. Your witness statement may be used as evidence in court.
Legally you do not have to make a statement or answer questions but it will help police investigate the crime and may make the difference in whether the offender can be brought to justice or not.
After you have made the statement you will be given or emailed a leaflet "Giving a witness statement to the police- what happens next?" which explains who to contact for more information and what happens next.
Who will read my statement?
Your statement will be read by everyone involved with the case (the police, Crown Prosecution Service, defence and magistrates or judge).
Will the suspect (or defendant) or the defence lawyer be given my address?
No. Your contact details are recorded on the reverse of your witness statement (or on a separate document in digital statements). The defendant or their solicitor only receives a copy of the front. Witnesses are not usually asked personal details in court apart from their names.
Will I be told what is happening in the case?
We are improving procedures to keep witnesses up to date with what is happening but this is not always possible in every case. Remember, you can contact the police at any time if you have questions or concerns.
As a witness, you may not be contacted again if:
- The suspect admits the offence and is cautioned
- There is not enough evidence to prosecute the suspect
- No suspect is identified
If the investigation results in a case being brought to court the Victim and Witness Hub will update you on the case's progress, either by phone, email or letter.
Will I have to go to court?
You will only have to go to court if the case is brought to trial and the defendant either:
- Denies the charge and pleads "not guilty"
- Pleads guilty but denies an important part of the offence which might affect the type of sentence they receive
The Victim and Witness Hub will let you know if you are needed to go to court. This may be some time after you gave your statement as cases take time to prepare.
Help and Support
If you are required to go to court and give evidence, a Victim and Witness Care Co-ordinator (VWCC) from the Victim and Witness Hub will get in touch with you, by phone if possible.
The VWCC's role is:
- To keep you informed about the progress of the case
- To offer you emotional and practical support to ensure that you can attend court and give evidence with confidence
This support can involve helping you emotionally as well as helping to organise childcare, transport, accommodation and so on.
The VWCC will work with you to identify any additional support you may require to assist you in giving evidence, for example via Special Measures such as putting screens around you so that the defendant cannot see you when you give evidence.
The Victim and Witness Hub works closely with the Witness Service, who provide free and independent support for victims and witnesses attending court. They can arrange pre-trial visits to the court and their volunteer staff at the court building provide information, support and a quiet place in which to wait during the trial itself. More details are available on their website citizens advice witness service
What will happen if I don't go to court?
If you have any problems or concerns about going to court, you must inform the Victim and Witness Hub as soon as possible. They will work with you to understand any difficulties you are having and try to address them.
If you are required to attend as a witness and do not go to court a number of things could happen.
- Firstly the case could be thrown out of court.
- Secondly the court could adjourn the proceedings so that a witness summons can be served on you. If you then fail to attend the next hearing after having a witness summons served on you then you could be arrested for "contempt of court".
Is there anything else I can do?
Yes. It is important to tell the police:
- If you have left anything out of your statement or if it is incorrect
- If your address or phone number changes (trials collapse every day because witnesses cannot be contacted in time)
- Dates when you may not be able to go to court. Please contact your Victim and Witness Care Co-ordinator to update this information as soon as it changes. It is needed when the trial date is set.
What if someone tries to intimidate me?
It is a criminal offence to intimidate a witness or anyone else helping the police in an investigation. Cambridgeshire Constabulary takes witness intimidation extremely seriously. If you are harassed or threatened in any way before, during or after the trial you should tell the police immediately.