Am I a witness?

About going to Court

In some cases, if you have seen, heard or have important information about a crime committed against you, you may need to give evidence in Court. When this happens, the Court will request your presence there as a WITNESS.

Testemunhar em Tribunal   According to the law, a WITNESS is any person who has information or knowledge about a crime because:
  • he/she saw or heard what happened;
  • he/she was a victim of crime.


The witness's role in Court is TO TELL THE TRUTH, that is, to tell all he/she knows and remembers about what happened.

There may be more than one witness and they may have different versions about what happened.

To understand what the witnesses know about what happened, the Procurator Fiscal, the Lawyers and the Judge (or Sheriff) will ask them some questions.


It is important to understand how the Court works and the tasks of the people who work there.

Please, take a look at the questions and answers below:


A Court is a building where Justice issues are resolved - for example, finding out, condemning and sentencing the people who committed crimes.


Prosecution means taking legal action against someone and bringing a case to Court.


A trial is a meeting that takes place in a Court room (you might have seen one on TV). At this meeting some key people will be present: the Judge (or Sheriff in Scotland), the Procurator Fiscal, the lawyers, the jury (not in all cases), the Court officers, the person accused of having committed the crime (the accused), and the witnesses (including the victim). In most trials, unless the Judge requests the public to leave the room, other people can be there watching.


The trial allows the Judge and, in some cases, the jury to hear all the evidence and take a decision, based on the evidence, about the responsibility of the accused. The testimony of different people about what happened might also be evidence and that helps the Judge (or the Jury) make a decision. During the Trial, several people can give evidence: the witnesses, the accused, the victim and other people who have important information or knowledge about the situation (such as professionals who collected evidence at the crime scene).
In those cases where a jury is present, after hearing all the evidence presented in Court room, the jury members go to a separate room to make a decision about whether they think the accused is guilty of the crime or not. Once a decision has been reached, the jury return to the Court room to tell the Judge their decision (whether they have found the accused guilty or not guilty). The Judge then decides on what sentence the offender should get as punishment.


Sentence is the name given to the decision the Judge takes about the punishment the offender should get for the crime committed (if the accused is found ‘guilty’).
The Sentence is usually given sometime after the Trial (normally, on a different day, a couple of days or weeks after the Trial).


The victim is the person against whom a crime was committed. In the criminal process the victim is usually requested as a witness because his/her direct knowledge about what happened is very important for finding out the truth.


The accused is the person being charged by the Procurator Fiscal of having committed a crime. The accusation is based on the evidence collected by the Procurator Fiscal in collaboration with the police.
Being an accused is not the same as being guilty of a crime. The Judge (or the Jury) has to decide in the Trial if there is enough evidence to say that the accused committed the crime (and, therefore, should be convicted and sentenced). The Judge or the jury can also decide that the accused is ‘not guilty’ or that there isn’t enough evidence showing that the accused committed the crime (the accused is acquitted in both cases).


The Judge can either be a man or a woman.  Traditionally the Judge wears a black cloak and a wig and sits behind a raised desk (like a podium) centrally placed. Often the Judge will remove their wig and gown when children are giving evidence.
The Judge in certain types of Court (called Sheriff Court) is called the Sheriff.
The Judge is the person who is in charge of all Court proceedings and is an expert in the law. They will ensure everything is done fairly within the law and that the Court rules and legal procedures are followed. They also have a duty to protect the interests of all the people involved in the case, including the witnesses.
You don’t need to be afraid of the Judge. The Judge is a fair person who knows the law very well and he/she is used to conducting trials.
Don’t be afraid to ask the Judge to have a break or go to the toilet, you have that right.


In some criminal cases a Jury will be present in the Courtroom. The Jury is formed by 15 members (men and women) of the public who listen to the evidence and decide if the accused is guilty or not.


The Procurator Fiscal is a lawyer who works for the The Crown Office. They make the decisions about bringing a case to Court. The Procurator Fiscal works with the police to collect the existing evidence that will be used to accuse someone of having committed a crime.
If the case goes to Court, the Procurator Fiscal presents the prosecution case against the person charged with a crime. If there is to be a trial and if the Procurator Fiscal decides to cite you as a witness, they will send you a letter (‘citation’) about the Court case and a leaflet explaining what will happen.
The Procurator Fiscal has to try and prove ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that the person committed the crime in order for the accused to be found guilty.
The Procurator Fiscal can either be a man or a woman and traditionally wears a black gown and a wig in Court. Often they will remove their wig and gown when children are giving evidence.
You don’t need to be afraid of them. They only want witnesses to tell what they know and what they remember about what happened.


It is the agency in charge of bringing cases to Court.


The Defence Lawyer can either be a man or a woman and also traditionally wears a black gown and a wig in Court.
The Defence Lawyer will represent and defend the rights of the accused (as you probably have already heard: people are considered innocent until proven guilty). These lawyers have a very important role: to ensure that the accused is not punished for a crime he/she did not commit.


The Court officer is an official responsible for providing support to the Court processes and ensuring that these processes follow the right steps and rules.
It is the Court officer who will call out your name in the waiting room when it is your turn to testify.


For more information search:

Witnesses in Scotland
• Provides useful and clear information about Courts’ proceedings; criminal Courts; children’s hearing, witnesses; giving evidence; special measures for young witnesses.
• Website: