Being a Witness in Court

Why do I have to go to Court?

Sometimes at a Children’s Hearing, the statement of grounds (the reason for a child/young person being at a Hearing) are read out and children/young people and their parents/carers, have to say whether they think the reasons are correct or not. This is usually at their first Hearing.

If they do not agree with the reasons for the Hearing, or if they are unable to understand the statement of grounds, a final decision cannot be made and the case may be sent to a Sheriff Court so that a Sheriff can decide if the statement of grounds are correct or not.

You may be called as a witness if your evidence (what you would say in court) is key to matters which are disputed (challenged).

If you are required to attend court you will receive a formal letter called a citation. This tells you the date and time you must attend court. You must attend court on the date shown. If you are unable to attend you need to contact the person who sent you the letter as soon as possible.

The Children’s Reporter usually relies on background reports and statements to prepare the case but sometimes they may want to meet with you either for precognition (to take a statement from you) or for general preparation. There may be other lawyers who wish to speak to you, either on behalf of the person involved in the case or for another person involved in the case. This is a normal part of the preparation of a court case.

You can decide when you meet with lawyers. If you have any questions about these meetings, you should contact the Reporter.

Sometimes agreement can be reached between the Reporter and the lawyers who represent the child/young person, parent/carers which means that you may not have to give evidence.

If agreement cannot be reached, the Sheriff will hear from witnesses to help them decide if there is sufficient evidence to find the statement of grounds established.

 On the day of Court

Bring your citation (formal letter) to court and show it to the person at reception.  You will be directed to a waiting room.

When you are waiting to go into court, you cannot discuss your evidence with any other witnesses in the case.

Unfortunately delays can happen and you may have to wait some time before you go into court.  There are often places to get refreshments in the court building.

Sometimes the date may be postponed or you may need to come back to court on another day.  This may be unavoidable and some delays cannot be predicted. The Reporter will try to  keep you informed of changes when they can.

Who will be present in Court?

  • The child/young person may be there if they are old enough.
  • The parents/carers of the child/young person and anyone with relevant person status.
  • The Sheriff – is an expert in the law and in charge of court proceedings.  They will ensure everything is done fairly within the law and that court rules and legal procedures are followed.
  • Children’s Reporter – presents the Children’s Hearing court case.  They look after the child/young person’s interests but do not represent them.
  • Lawyer – the child/young person and their parents/carers may have a lawyer to to represent them.
  • Safeguarder – is a person who is appointed to make sure that a child/young person’s interests are looked after.
  • Sheriff Clerk – is responsible for assisting the Sheriff and keeping the court papers and records.
  • Court Officer – assists the court and lets the witnesses know when it is their turn to give evidence.  They may also be asked to show a witness different pieces of evidence such as photographs and other items.

The court takes place in private – no members of the public are allowed in the court room for Children’s Hearings proceedings.

What happens in Court?

The Reporter, Lawyer(s) and Safeguarder will ask you questions so that you can tell the Sheriff what you know.  You will firstly be asked questions from the person who cited you to attend court (this is usually the Reporter). This is called examination in chief.  After this you will be asked questions from the other lawyers in the room, this is called cross examination.

The Sheriff will listen to the evidence of all the witnesses. If the Sheriff decides that there is sufficient evidence to find that the statement of grounds are correct, then the matter will be sent back to another Children’s Hearing who will then decide what would be the best way of giving the child/young person whatever help or support they think that they need. If the Sheriff decides there is insufficient evidence to find that the grounds are correct, then that would be the end of the matter and there won’t be another Children’s Hearing.

If you have any questions or anxieties about court, please contact the Children’s Reporter or the person who cited you to attend court.

Need more information?

Click here to watch our ‘Going to Court’ video which is a short film aimed at children/young people and their parents/carers going to court as part of Children’s Hearings proceedings.

For more information, please visit the website. There is information about Children’s Hearings court proceedings and ‘Being a Witness’ booklets for children and young people, and parents and carers, in various languages.

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