You have the right to go to court in most circumstances. Most court cases are heard in 'open court' which means anyone can attend the hearing.
Sometimes there are reasons why you shouldn't go. Always check with the police, prosecutor or sheriff's officer.
There are often several court hearings before a matter is finalised.
At one of the hearings, the accused will be read their charges and must formally enter a plea.
- If they plead guilty, there is no trial and a date is set for sentencing - this means you won't have to give evidence as a witness.
- If they plead not guilty, the case is adjourned while a trial date is set.
Receiving a summons or subpoena
If the case does go to trial, you might be called as a witness for the case. This means you will be asked questions in court.
If you are needed as a witness, you will be given a letter called a summons, or a subpoena. It will tell you when and where the court case is going to be held.
If you receive a summons or a subpoena, you must go to court to give evidence.
If you are appearing as a witness, you will not be able to be in the courtroom before you give your evidence. Afterwards, you should be able to listen to the rest of the hearing.
Preparing for court and what to expect
The thought of having to go to court might make you feel nervous or anxious, especially if you have to give evidence - this is normal.
If you have been assigned a Witness Assistance Officer they can also help you prepare for court.
Planning your day beforehand might help you feel more comfortable about going to court.
What to wear
You don't need to wear a suit to court, but you should dress neatly.
In a courtroom, it is not appropriate to wear:
You should also bring a jacket or jumper as some courtrooms can be cold.
Plan your route
Think about how you'll get to the court - it's a good idea to get there 30 minutes before the case starts.
You might need to catch public transport as car parking can sometimes be hard to find near the courts.
Waiting for your case
You should take something to do and something to eat and drink while you are waiting - it can be unpredictable how long your case might take.
At the court, the Sheriff's Officer can show you to a special waiting room for victims and witnesses.
If these rooms aren't available they will find a safe place for you to wait.
If you are intimidated by the offender or people that are with the offender while you are waiting, you should tell the sheriff's officer or the police investigator.
You may also be able to have someone go to court with you as a support person. Contact the Commissioner for Victims' Rights to discuss who may be able to support you.
There are a few things to be aware of in a courtroom:
- When a judge or magistrate enters or leaves the courtroom, you must stand up and bow.
- You must turn off your mobile phone, pager and alarm on your watch while in the courtroom.
- You are not allowed to talk or take notes if you are sitting in the public gallery.
- You cannot call out your objections, shout at the accused, applaud or cheer.
- If the judge speaks to you, you should stand and address them as 'Your Honour', 'Sir', or 'Madam'.
As a victim, it can be hard to keep calm. If you feel upset, you can leave the courtroom. If you are giving evidence, you can ask for a break.
Remember - you won't be able to sit in on the trial until after you have given your evidence.