Being a Professional Witness
Why go to Court?
Professional adult witnesses may be called or ‘cited’ to go to court if they are considered to have important information about a child or young person’s welfare. They can be called by the Procurator Fiscal in a criminal case, the Reporter to the Children’s Panel, or the defence or other lawyer acting for the child, young person or their family.
Before a court case witnesses receive a citation or letter giving a date for the case to start. This is a formal notice to attend and must not be ignored. If a witness does not turn up the court can issue a summons.
If you are called as a witness and there is an important reason why the date in the citation is difficult, for example, you have a hospital appointment, or it is your first time as a professional witness and you have questions or anxieties, contact the person who cited you and let them know immediately.
In many Children’s Hearing court cases all parties agree the facts and the case is settled. Where this does not happen the court will need to hear the evidence.
You may need time off work so let your employer know in advance that you have been cited. If your employer is reluctant to give you time off work tell the person who cited you straight away.
On the day of court
Bring your citation with you and present it at reception. If you are concerned about entering the court building or being in the same waiting area as someone else in the case, it may be possible for someone to meet you at a private entrance and let you wait in a different room. If necessary, ask the person citing you as a witness about this.
Children’s Hearing court cases have special timescales to ensure cases are heard as quickly as possible, however problems can occur, such as someone being ill. If this happens, witnesses can be asked to return on another date. If a delay causes you concern, speak to the person who cited you.
Witnesses must not discuss their evidence with other witnesses and cannot go back into the witness waiting room once they are finished giving evidence.
A court officer will advise you when it is your turn to give evidence.
What happens in court
Before you begin to give your evidence, you will be asked to repeat a religious oath or to agree that you promise to tell the truth. If you choose to take an oath, the court will take account of your religious beliefs.
Witnesses give their evidence one at a time and will be asked questions, by the Procurator Fiscal and/or Children’s Reporter and lawyers. The Judge or Sheriff may also ask questions.
How long it takes to give evidence will depend on how much information you have to tell the court and how many questions you are asked. You may be asked to point to the person you are being asked questions about to identify them. If you are worried about doing this, speak to the person who cited you.
If you deliberately do not tell the truth you could face criminal charges. If you are worried about what will happen if you tell the truth about someone, speak to the person who cited you. Similarly speak to them if you are concerned about the possibility of your address being read out in court.
It is the Sheriff’s duty to protect the interests of witnesses. If you have any concerns about the tone or manner of questioning or about your own comfort refer to the Sheriff. You may wish to discuss how this can be done with the person who cited you.
When the lawyers have finished asking you questions, the Sheriff will let you know that you are finished and can leave.
When the evidence of all witnesses has been heard, the Sheriff has to make their decision.
In a Children’s Hearing court case, the Sheriff will decide what has been proven, whether grounds have been established and whether the case should be returned to the Children’s Hearing for disposal. If the case is returned to the Children’s Hearing, the Hearing will decide what happens after that.
Being an expert/skilled witness
Sometimes a professional witness will be called to give evidence of their opinion as a skilled or expert witness (these terms mean the same thing). SCRA has produced a leaflet that explains more about this and the particular requirements that are made of these witnesses. You will find a copy of the leaflet here.
For more information, please visit the mygov.scot website. It has more detailed information about being a witness and a section specifically about Children’s Hearings court proceedings.