Child victims/witnesses

Downloadable PDF version – Attending Trial – Children victims/witnesses (PDF 0.2MB)

Before the Trial
During the Trial
After the Trial
Other general tips
A Final Word

For young children and adolescents, attending a criminal trial can be an unfamiliar and stressful experience.

Children and adolescents may not fully understand the criminal justice system and can often feel frightened or overwhelmed by the court process.

The experience can also be difficult if children and adolescents are required to give evidence against family members or other persons they know.

It is important that children and adolescents have the opportunity to prepare for a trial in a way that bests suits their particular needs.

Before the Trial

  • If appropriate, advise your child’s school (or teacher) in advance that your child will be absent from school (you may consider how much information you want to provide).
  • Arrange to arrive at the court at the time you are given. Avoid rushing where you can.
  • Agree on key support person(s) for your child and confirm that they are available as needed and required.
  • Arrange for a convenient place to meet with your Witness Assistance Officer or Court Companion.
  • Ensure you have appropriate child care arrangements in place for other children that may need supervising during the trial process.
  • If driving, plan where you might park in advance (there is plenty of secure (paid) parking close to the court).
  • Check timetables for trams, trains or buses and allow additional time should there be delays with public transport.
  • Plan for your child to dress appropriately for a court environment (something they are comfortable in).
  • Ensure your child has breakfast and has access to snacks and a drink throughout the day.
  • Bring a book or magazine for yourself (in the event that you have quite a long wait) plus a game, device, book or favourite toy for your child.
  • Make sure you take (or bring) prescribed medications that you or the child may require. It is not recommended that your child cease taking prescription medications before the trial (unless advised by their doctor or specialist).
  • Make plans for after trial (i.e. let your child talk to someone about how giving evidence made them feel, celebrate their bravery by arranging an activity or a special treat).
  • Ensure that the child’s counsellors and other support people know your child is going to give evidence.
  • Have an appointment ready for after the trial if it is needed.
  • Ensure your child has completed a Court Tour before the trial.
  • Confirm that special provisions for your child for giving evidence are in place and discussed with your allocated Witness Assistance Officer (i.e. Court Companion, CCTV, One-Way Screen, Closed Court).
  • Go through the booklet entitled “Going To Court: An Important Job”, with your child so they have an understanding of the court process.
  • Take time to answer your child’s questions or discuss any concerns they may have. If you cannot answer their questions, speak to the Investigation Officer, Witness Assistance Officer or DPP Prosecutor.

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During the Trial

Before Giving Evidence
  • Make yourself and your child known to the Sheriff’s Officers when you arrive
  • Try to encourage your child to remain calm while waiting if possible.
  • Remain calm for your child. You child will become worried if they see you becoming anxious or distressed.
  • Let relevant staff know if you or your child are becoming anxious or distressed.
  • Wait quietly in one of the designated Witness Waiting Areas. There are special waiting areas to give you and your child privacy.
When Giving Evidence
  • When it is your child’s turn to give evidence, the Sheriff’s Officer will come and get your child and lead them to the witness box.
  • If your child is giving evidence via CCTV, the Sheriff’s Officer will set up the relevant technology and let you know when the court is ready to begin.
  • The Judge’s Associate will ask your child to Swear on the Bible or give an Affirmation (promise) to Tell the Truth. Your child will then be asked to sit down.
  • Depending on the age of your child, the Judge may ask them questions about ‘telling the truth’.
  • This is a normal part of the trial process.
  • The Prosecutor will ask your child questions first and assist your child to tell the court about what has happened to them.
  • Following the Prosecutor, the Defence Lawyer will then ask your child questions about their evidence. This is called “cross examination”.
  • When giving evidence in court, remind your child to:
    • Always tell the truth;
    • Speak clearly and take their time (try not to speak too softly or quickly);
    • Wait for the lawyers to ask them questions before they respond;
    • Respond to the Judge if he or she asks them a question.
  • Avoid guessing the answer to a question;
  • Avoid using gestures to answer questions (they cannot nod their head, shrug their shoulders, etc, instead of speaking);
  • Say so if they do not understand a question they are asked:
  • Say so if they do not know (or recall) the answer to a question;
  • Also remind your child about the following:
    • Turn off their mobile phone whilst in the court room;
    • Not to chew gum, eat or drink (apart from the water provided) whilst in the court room;
    • Ask if they need some more water;
    • Ask for a break if they need one;
    • Not to be disrespectful when giving evidence (no unnecessary language or swearing);
    • Not to leave the court room unless the Judge has given them permission to;
    • Not to leave the court building unaccompanied or on their own.
  • After your child has given their evidence, they are free to leave the court room and court building with you.
  • Court sessions are normally between 10am – 1pm and 2:15 – 4:30pm each day.
  • The same court room should be used for each day of the trial.
  • Your child cannot discuss their evidence with anyone during the breaks.
  • DO NOT ask your child what has been said by them or anyone else in the court room.

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After the Trial

  • It is appropriate for you to ask your child how they are feeling about giving their evidence, but it is important you DO NOT discuss their evidence until after the trial is completed.
  • If your child wants to talk to you about their evidence it is important you explain to them you are not able to do this until after the trial is completed.
  • Have a plan in place to distract your child after they have given their evidence.
  • Try not to worry, stress or guess what may have happened during the trial. This will only upset your child.

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Other general tips

  • It is normal for people to feel worried and nervous about attending court. Your allocated Witness Assistance Officer or Court Companion can assist in discussing these feelings with you or your child
  • Organise relevant support persons in advance.
  • Be on time.
  • Speak with the Investigating Officer, Witness Assistance Officer or DPP Prosecutor where you have particular concerns.
  • Remain calm.
  • Support, encourage and reinforce your child.
  • Remind your child that they are not the person on trial.
  • Note any unusual changes in your child’s demeanour or behaviour.
  • Seek professional advice if you feel concerned for your child.

A Final Word

  • Going through a trial is never an easy experience for anyone, particularly a child.
  • It is always important to acknowledge your child for what they have achieved regardless of any legal outcome.
  • Children will often want to know the outcome of a Trial. Witness Assistance Officers can help you to explain what has occurred and why in a way that your child can understand.
  • As a parent or guardian, do not underestimate the impact of a Trial on you. It is important for you to access the appropriate support you need during and after this process.

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