Rights of Witnesses
Ensuring your safety when giving evidence
Giving evidence for a crime that you have witnessed can put you in a very difficult and worrying position. You may fear reprisals from those connected to the perpetrator of the crime, and worry about the impact that your testimony will have on your own life, as well as the lives of your family.
However, witnesses are guaranteed a number of rights under human rights law, and these rights are in place to make sure that no witness should worry about coming forward.
When you first come forward as a witness, you may be asked by police to submit a witness statement, either in the form of a written statement or a video recording. If you give a video statement, you will most likely be required to sign a written account of what you said on video.
If police are still searching for the suspect, they may show you photographs of known criminals, to see if they already have records of the perpetrator.
Called to trial as a witness
If you are called to trial as a witness, you do have some freedom as to when and how it would be best for you to attend. You can’t actually avoid coming to the trial unless you have pre-existing mitigating factors to consider, but you can inform the police if there are particular days during the course of the trial that would make it difficult for you to attend.
If there are real mitigating factors that would prevent your attendance – for example, if you are not fit to leave the house – the defence or prosecution council can apply to have your written witness statement put before the court in lieu of your appearance.
If you wish to be kept separate from other people involved in the case, such as other witnesses, you can ask to wait in a different room before the trial begins. You are also entitled to request a seat in court for a friend or relative to accompany you.
Freedom from witness intimidation
Witness intimidation can have a significant effect on the course of a trial – however, any harm or intimidation visited upon a witness before, during or after trial is illegal. If you have been called as a witness and you do fear intimidation, the prosecution can apply to have your written statement serve as your testimony, preventing your need to appear in court before anyone who could intimidate you.
If it is found that intimidation was used by the defendant, or a party on behalf of the defendant, and the court accepts that this intimidation may have genuinely affected the outcome of the case, the court has the power to order a re-trial.
Intimidation isn’t always designed to affect the course of the trial – a defendant could attempt to intimidate a witness after a trial has ended, contacting them or following them once they leave prison, and sometimes even contacting them from inside.
The maximum penalty for witness intimidation is 5 years in jail, depending on the severity of the intimidation and the effect that it had on the outcome of a legal case.
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Human rights are those rights that every individual on the planet is entitled to. Human rights are granted to every living individual of the human race.Find out more
The European Convention of Human Rights was first set up in 1950 by the Council of Europe in order to safeguard and improve human rights laws.Find out more
A human rights solicitor will be expected to provide legal advice on a range of different subjects which are covered under humanitarian laws.Find out more