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DURING THE TRIAL
I can’t underestimate the amount of time that you will be hanging around before your child or yourself will actually give evidence. You will be asked to come to the court at a set time be prepared to have lengthy waiting periods. Apparently, it is rare for courts to run on time! So, make sure you bring something for you and your child to do, for example, hand held games console, book, magazines, a laptop, anything to keep your mind occupied instead of sitting and waiting whilst your mind plays tricks on you.
The prosecuting Lawyer/barrister may come and meet you and your child before the trial starts where he will introduce him/herself, go through the protocol and ask the child if they would prefer the court officials to wear their wigs or not. This is purely to make the child as comfortable and at ease as is possible.
You will be able to go out for lunch but it is more complicated if your child has started giving evidence and you are a witness too. You may need to ask somebody who isn’t a witness to take the child out during the lunch break. This is something we suggest you ask the Witness Support workers at court.
As part of you day or days in court you may be entitled to have some of your expenses paid for. Generally there is a set amount given for witnesses, which also should include your car parking fees, mileage, care for other children in your family whilst you are at court and loss of earnings you may incur during the proceedings.
In a Crown Court, it is the jury that decides whether of not the defendant is guilty. When all the evidence has been heard the Jurors will go out of the courtroom and talk about all the evidence that has been presented. This may take hours or in some cases even days. If there is more than one charge the sitting judge will instruct the jury to deliberate on each individual charge and bring back possible verdicts on each individual count. If they cannot come to a decision unanimously then the Judge may say he will allow a majority verdict. If they still cannot come to a decision then the Judge may dismiss the jury and then you will have to decide whether you and your child are willing to face a retrial at a later date.
Children are generally expected to give their evidence by video link to protect them from the defendant and also the fear of being inside a courtroom. The only person that the children will see on the screen is the person who will be talking to them at the time. This will be either of the barristers or the Judge himself, no one else. They will first see the video that they had previously made, and then the prosecution Barrister will ask them questions relating to that video evidence. After the Barrister has finished questioning the cross examining will begin from the defendants Barrister who can ask them questions on anything. The children could be giving evidence for hours depending on the amount of charges the defendant has against him/her. Generally, the sitting judge will be supportive and protective of the child giving evidence. The child will be able to have a Witness Support Worker with them in the room for support. If you are to give evidence in the court and are worried about seeing the defendant then speak to the police in charge of the case about putting dividing screens up between you and the defendant. This can help keep your mind focused on the evidence you need to give rather than feeling intimidated by having to see the defendant.
Witnesses cannot go into the courtroom before they have given evidence so you will not be able to go in to the room and listen to your child if you are to give evidence.
The usher will ask your child to take an ‘oath’ before your child answers any of the questions. This means that you will promise to tell the truth. They will give you a couple to choose from and if you want to swear an oath on the Bible or another Holy book depending on what religion you are. If you are not religious then you can use a promise that doesn’t mention God. Your child will also be asked their name and how old they are before the questioning begins.
Speak to your child beforehand and remind them to listen to the questions carefully and if they don’t understand anything then ask the barrister to explain what he/she meant or to repeat the question. Remind them to answer the questions as clearly as possible and above all else just TELL THE TRUTH. It is ok to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t remember’. If the questions are embarrassing or upsetting it is ok for them to use any words they can to explain. Lawyers may suggest answers to their own questions and it is important never to agree unless it is true. They may suggest that your child is lying, that is ok, just stick to the truth. If your child is asked a question more than once this is not because the answer was wrong, just stick with the truth. It is the barrister’s job to test everything that your child and you are saying.
If your child needs a toilet break or a drink of water it is ok for them to ask.
The trial may last for several days or for a few weeks dependant on the severity of the charges, witnesses and evidence. And the jury could be out of the courtroom for hours or even days before a verdict can be reached.
This may all sound very daunting but try not to allow the system to dissuade you from giving the evidence you know to be the truth. This entire process actually goes a long way in helping you and your child move to the next level of healing. Stay strong and remember, as we have said before STICK WITH THE TRUTH!
In closing remember no matter what the final verdict is, whether you get the result you are looking for or not the truth is what is important, so stick with it.