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Advice on thoughts on being witness in court at 24 weeks

(26 Posts)
angels1 Thu 26-Aug-10 17:25:49

This is a bit of an odd one.

I was at a car accident a year ago. It happened about 2 cars ahead. I didn't see the accident itself but rushed over to help injured parties in the accident. There was a lady who died on impact and 2 injured people. The whole experience really shook me up - it was the first time I'd ever seen a dead person. I came home and cried for the rest of the day, managed to work the rest of the week through a haze of upset then the following week the police came to do a witness statement (depsite me not seeing the accident). I found the thing incredibly stressful and upsetting (it took 4 hours to do) and the following morning I collapsed in the bathroom (very unlike me) from the stress of it all. I then had to take a week off work as I couldn't deal or cope with anything without crying, had nightmared, I even went to the doctor as I was so worried I wasn't coping (they just told me to go away and come back if it didn't get better!).

All this was bad enough, and I'm not as nervous over the whole thing as I was, although I still try not to think about it as I get upset, but I have been summoned to court in november as a witness (dangerous driving or something for one of the drivers). I've replied saying I'll go, but the idea upsets me. I can't remember anything from the accident anyway as I've blocked it out, and my original witness statement says everythign I coudl remember the time. But I never saw the accident anyhow, only the aftermath so don't see how key my evidence can me. I'm convinced that if I have to go to court it'll really stress me out as I'm a very anxious person anyway and during pregnancy I'm even worse (had a panic attack last night for no reason). But I don't know if it's something I can get out of because of stress/being pregnant. I know that stress isn't be good for the baby, and if I'm worryig about this so much 10 weeks away from the date what will I be like nearer the time?!

I have a mw appointment next week and I'm not sure whether to mention it to her or what she'll say - I might just get told to stop being silly and get on with it. Any thoughts on this really gratefully received.

Candinha Thu 26-Aug-10 18:01:27

When I was pg with DC1 and living in London I had to go to court while 8 months pg to be a witness in a minor sexual assault me and my friend had been victims to. I was very stressed but we were lucky that we were behind a screen so we could not see the defendent. I found the police were very helpful and before going into court they went over my witness statement in detail so I could refresh my mind of what I had reported at the time. I think there's no harm talking to your MW about it I did and she was reassuring. Take plenty of snacks because I remenber waiting quite a while to go in. I was lucky that my husband and close friend were also witness as they both had seen the defendent so they were with me the whole time. I don't know if you can have someone close to you who will support you?? Ah and make sure if driven there by a mad policewoman she drives sensibly and doesn't nearly make you sick in the car grin I am not sure this is helpful to you but just wanted to reassure you that you are not alone feeling stressful we are very hormonal when pg and you went through a very stressful situations. Anyway good luck with it.

notjustalawyer Thu 26-Aug-10 18:21:02

That sounds really stressful. I would suggest that you perhaps call the prosecutor/police officer and explain your concerns, and that you didn't really see the accident itself. In some circumstances the prosecution and defence can agree that a witness statement can go in uncontested if you can't come to court, and your situation may fit into that. However it will only happen if you ask.

If they do really need you - try not to get too stressed out about it, remember that the defence lawyer will not be attacking you but just testing your memory and, as you admit, you didn't see the accident anyway! I can't see how you would be that vital since you didn't actually see it so hopefully they will let you out. Good luck!

angels1 Thu 26-Aug-10 18:46:44

Yeah, thanks. It's not the being questioned by an attacking solicitor that freaks me out though, it's just having to think about and relive the whole event when I just don't want to think about it ever again.

bigstripeytiger Thu 26-Aug-10 18:52:01

You might not be asked in the end - being cited now doesnt mean that the case will go ahead, or that if it does that they will want you to attend when the time comes.

bigstripeytiger Thu 26-Aug-10 18:54:46

Also solicitors shouldnt 'attack' you.

If you are in court look at the judge rather than the solicitor when you are talking, it makes it harder for the solicitor to badger or interrupt you.

Also, a solicitor who questions you is just doing thier job to fully test the evidence. Even if they seem to disagree with you that doesnt mean that they dont privately agree with every word you are saying.

nancydrewrocked Thu 26-Aug-10 19:01:06

Yes firstly don't panic. Being warned to attend now doesn't necessarily mean that you will be called to give evidence. Often witnesses are asked to attend and then once the trial is underway it is decided that their evidence can be agreed and it is simply read out.

Obviously what you saw was horrific and has effected you deeply but please try to bear in mind the other parties involved. Someone either drove dangerously, resulting in someones death, in which case it is only right that they are appropriately punished for that offence or they have been accused of something they didn't do in which case it is only fair that the Court has all the evidence it can before it reaches it's decision. That is how the system works here and as difficult as that is personally for you, please try and see the bigger picture.

If you are required to give evidence, speak to the witness liaision officer who will be at the court. They will be able to communicate your fears to the relevant parties and your need for any additional requirements (more frequent breaks/a seat) to the Court.

Best of luck.

angels1 Thu 26-Aug-10 19:09:04

thanks. I have defo been summoned for court as it were.

And Nancydrewrocked I know that my experience is nothing compared to the family of the person who died who of course want justice. The accident involved a police officer who caused the accident and it's him who's charged with dangerous driving and because he pleaded not guilty it's gone to court. I just don't see how my evidence can prove anything to anyone as I can't remember anything, all I'll be able to do is refer to my statement as I can't remember a thing now. If I knew my evidence was important or could make a difference of course I'd do it but I truly don't and just feel it's making me really anxious/stressed and I know I'll cope badly with the whole thing.

nancydrewrocked Thu 26-Aug-10 19:28:05

angels please don't take this as me giving you a hard time, I really do sympathise with your predicament.

Of course you can't know if your evidence will make a difference but the point is someone who, presumably has a clearer knowledge of the entire case, does believe your evidence is relevant and will make a difference to either the prosecution or the defence and you have been asked to attend. Hard as that is I really think you should steal yourself to do so.

Also it is totally normal to receive the summons now - it still doesn't mean you will have to give evidence. So there is hope smile

boognish Thu 26-Aug-10 20:19:18

Speaking from my own professional experience, I agree most with notjustalawyer. I would add that it is not unknown for one side or the other to require a witness to testify where that witness really has little to add to the overall equation, simply because they've read too much into the evidence or haven't read it carefully enough, so your concerns are not necessarily unjustified.

If it's the case of the prosecution thinking they need to rely on you where they don't, chasing up witness care and reiterating your points may well do the trick. But it is actually quite hard to get round the normal legal requirement for evidence to be given live in court under oath (with the fairness of your being questioned by both sides that that entails). Courts are used to heavily pregnant women giving evidence, and in cases like yours contested evidence wouldn't have a hope of getting read in court without a medical report verifying why the witness can't/shouldn't have to attend. So if witness care (who act for the CPS) accept that you won't come, that will normally mean that the value of your evidence is lost to them.

If it's the defence who've insisted on your presence, the prosecution may still have kept responsibility for contacting you (as they have your details) and bringing you to court as their witness. If that's the case, it would be wrong to speculate on what bearing your evidence might have, but frequently witnesses think they're useless where in fact they have something to say that is relevant (eg, casts doubt on a more central witness). It's unlikely that questioning would be very drawn-out or confrontational given what you've said.

Be clear with witness care about your difficulties and be persistent if you think your concerns haven't got through to the prosecutor in charge of the case. E-mail them so that the prosecutor can read your words rather than getting it secondhand.

angels1 Fri 27-Aug-10 08:05:12

Thanks for this. A question is any of you read this - if I do go to court, do I hang around for the whole case or am I told a day/time to come in? Currently I've been told to keep a week or so free as if I have to be in court for that entire week just waiting for the time to give my evidence (?) and when I do give my statement can I just go in answer the questions and then leave straight away or do I have to wait around until they have a break?

onadietcokebreak Fri 27-Aug-10 08:10:27

Angels I have no idea about the court thing but you sound so affected by this accident I think you should try and access counselling. Maybe speak to GP or witness liasion.

nancydrewrocked Fri 27-Aug-10 08:16:43

A lot depends on how organised the witness liaison service are - it varies hugely from court to court.

But in brief. In a short trial (which Death by Dangerous Driving is) the norm is for all prosecution witnesses to be warned to attend on the first day of trial. The trial then may or may not start on time. Once it starts the prosecution will have a better idea of when you will be needed (they will of course have a rough idea e.g. you are witness number 7 and they will be calling 3 witnesses per day, but it is very difficult to be specific.)

Accordingly they may not be able to pin this down to a specific afternoon or even day but should be able to narrrow it down to the nearest two days. You certainly wont need to hang around court all day every day for a week.

The problem is, with so many factors trials are very much a moveable feast - witnesses get sick, jurors turn up late, legal arguments go on longer than anticipated, Courts are double booked. So whilst people will try and be as helpful as possible often the answer is a genuine "we just don't know".

Once you have been questioned and cross examined you are free to leave immediately (in very very rare circumstances you might be called back to Court but that would be exceptional).


angels1 Fri 27-Aug-10 08:29:24

nancydrewrocked if you are told to come in for a specific day/2 days do you sit in a waiting room all the time until you give your evidence or do you have to sit in the court room?

nancydrewrocked Fri 27-Aug-10 08:38:00

You are not allowed to sit in the Court room prior to giving evidence.

Most Courts do have a specific witness room this can vary from a large room with sofas and coffee making facilities to little more than a broom cupboard. You will be welcome to use that (and some witnesses like to as it means they wont bump into the defendant)or you can sit in the normal waiting room, canteen or have a look what is going on in other courts.

If you manage to speak to the case officer they may agree to you leaving the building and they will take your mobile number so they can call you back, although the best bet is to take a few magazines and a book and prepare yourself for a wait.

Which Court are you at (obviously you don't have to say if you don't want to)?

angels1 Fri 27-Aug-10 08:48:07

maidstone (I think) in Kent. Well, at least if I do end up having to go I won't have to sit in court for hours listening all about the accident. It's worse than sitting in a doctors waiting room waiting to go in I imagine though!!

remindmelater Fri 27-Aug-10 11:18:02

i work for the courts (on maternity leave at the moment).

There is A LOT of waiting so bring reading material drinks and snacks (they are provided but if there is something specific you like bring it with you). The Court canteens are expensive.

Beforehand you can ask witness service if they can show you an empty court room and explain who will be in the court room and where everyone sits.

You will be called to court and a witness service volunteer will bring you to the court room. When you enter the court will be sitting (defendant, jurors, Judge, Barristers, Clerk, Usher etc). You will be taken to the witness box and the usher will ask you to swear an oath on a holy book or you can 'Affirm.' The Judge may address you about breaks and tell you that you can sit but to keep your voice up. The Prosecution will question you first, direct your answers to the Judge or the Jurors and keep your voice up. You will then be questioned by the defence barrister. Barristers won't attack you like in American court room dramas, in any event the Judge would intervene. The Judge may then have some questions (or they will just ask you during the course of your evidence). When you are done, the Judge will say you are released, you will be free to leave the court building or you can stay and sit in the public gallery and listen to the rest of the trial but as mentioned you will not be allowed to sit in court until after your evidence is given.

If you need a break during your evidence don't be afraid to just tell the Judge, the court is very understanding about witnesses being upset and will rise for you, the court room can be cleared, or you will be taken to the witness room or there is an ante room next to the court room. The Usher should provide you with tissues and water during your evidence.

Good luck and i know it's not easy but try not to worry yourself too much.

remindmelater Fri 27-Aug-10 11:33:03

also you can have friends/family/support sitting in the public gallery whilst you give your evidence. I can't stress enough to ask for a break if you need it, although you might find it better to just get it all done in one go and leave as soon as possible. There's probably something else i've forgotten to mention - my DD1 is chatting away to me as i'm trying to type! - but just ask if you have any other questions about what will happen when you get to court.

nancydrewrocked Fri 27-Aug-10 12:05:30

I know Maidstone Court quite well although haven't been there for quite some time. It is a big Court House with many Courts and as I recall the witness waiting area is pretty good. It is also spread out over a number of floors so there is always a quiet spot to be found in the public areas.

It also has the advantage of being very near the town.

I have always found the ushers there to be very friendly. Get there nice and early, let the Court Usher know you are nervous - these things are always communicated and you'll be fine smile

angels1 Sat 28-Aug-10 10:41:55

Does it usually take a long time as a witness in court? I know, how long is a piece of string etc, but just a general idea - like is it only ten mins, or half an hour, or several hours?

I don't know if being near the town is an advantage nancydrewrocked - the parking in maidstone is terrible at the best of times and traffic is bad around the centre. Add to that people christmas shopping and it could take ages to find a parking space - more time to have to allow!

remindmelater Sat 28-Aug-10 18:36:43

Like you say it depends. As a rough idea main witnesses like complainants/victims tend to take the longest. In my experience on average a long witness can be over an hour questioned by prosecution, then another hour by defence and perhaps another hour with re-examination from both sides but these are pretty few and far between and depends on the facts of the case and also how contentious their evidence is.

Subsequent witnesses tend to be shorter, some as little as 5 mins if it is just the prosecution calling the witness asking a few questions and the Judge and defence barrister have no questions.

I guess average would be about 20-30 minutes in total say 10 minutes questions from prosecution, 10 minutes from defence, 10 minutes with any re examination. It is very highly unlikely you'll be in the witness box for several hours.

Courts like to try and get your evidence over in one go for continuity, so if it looks like it is getting too close to the lunch hour between 1pm-2pm then they will find an appropriate break in your evidence and break for lunch and you will complete your evidence after lunch, or if it is getting late in the afternoon say close to 4pm and they think they will not get through all your evidence they may decide to start your evidence the following day rather than break up the evidence. Again this differs from court to court and the Judge.

Don't forget to claim back witness expenses, you can get a form from the court office within the court building.

Poppet45 Sun 29-Aug-10 12:08:06

I think the time it takes will depend on how controversial/pivotal your testimony is. And to be honest it appears you've been called to relay information on what was going on on the road in the moments just before the crash, and possibly in the aftermath. But not actually the accident itself so you're a supporting role - kind of setting the scene - rather than a lead witness. As such I reckon what remindmelater says is about right.
I know it's hard. But please, please accept that you do have to do this. I know you're pregnant. But you're a small part in a much bigger picture. Someone died here. And it will take lots of people, each playing a small part in court, to ensure that justice is done. None of them will want to do it, some of them may be sick or unwell, almost certainly some will be just as upset as you are by the aftermath of the crash but they will do it, because they know that if they were a family member of the deceased they would want others to do the decent thing to, its a matter of respect for others.
My mum was killed in a road accident when I was 17 and I sat through the resultant court time, listened as the pathologist's report on each and every one of her wounds was outlined and heard in quiet detail what went on in her final moments on this planet. I needed to hear it all, and I needed to see the people who were with her, when I was blissfully unaware of her death, sitting a couple of miles away in a classroom. It really helped me to grieve.

angels1 Sun 29-Aug-10 12:19:24

Oh poppet I'm so sorry what you went through and it really put things in perspective for me. I want to do the right thing and I know that's going to court - it's just what I don't want is to go there and have all that stress and only be able to say 'I can't remember' or 'I couldn't be certain'. I'm also not sure how the anxiety might affect my baby.

I think perhaos I should ring them up and explain my situation and see what they say. If my evidence isn't important they might decide it's not essential for me to go and my witness statement will be sufficient. If they think I need to go then I'll maybe see my GP for councelling beforehand to make sure I can cope with it (??).

Poppet45 Sun 29-Aug-10 16:23:31

I think ringing them and having a chat is a great idea and ditto the counselling too. I know it's easier said than done but try not to worry and good luck.

wigglesrock Sun 29-Aug-10 16:49:04

angels sorry to keep posting on different threads - there is a possibilty of having both sides agree your statement and therefore you do not need to go to court, it's called "an agreed statement" -funny enough!!! Give the court a ring, see if they'll think about it

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