What to expect at court

Victims may go into court to be a witness, to support someone, or to observe what’s happening in their case. The court process is complicated, with a lot of legal phrases and procedures involved.

Some criminal cases are long and difficult, with unpredictable delays that can be hard to understand. It helps to know what might happen, when it might happen, how you can participate, and where you can get support.

Victim Support are here to support you to participate in the court process as much or as little as you choose, and to make those decisions based on all the information you need. You can call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker.

The role of victims at court
Many victims find it worthwhile participating in the court or criminal justice process, but it helps to be prepared for what to expect.

The main thing victims may notice is that court dates and the actual proceedings revolve around the defendant, not the victim. This is because the defendant is being charged with breaking a state law. The two official parties in the justice process are therefore the state (represented by the Crown/Police Prosecutor) and the defendant. It also helps to remember that in court the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty.

Support at court
It can be stressful and frustrating to relive an already traumatic experience in court, and to hear the defendant present information which may not reflect events as you experienced them. That’s why it is important to have good support in place.

Your Support Worker is someone to talk with and will listen during this difficult time, provide information about what’s happening, and help to find answers to any questions you have. They can prepare you for what to expect and assist with arrangements to attend court, including financial assistance in some cases. Your Support Worker can help you to prepare your Victim Impact Statement and accompany you to court and other hearings as a support person. You don’t have to go through this alone.

A Victim Support Worker is different from a Court Victim Advisor. Victim Support is there to support your well-being and participation. Your Support Worker is completely independent of police and the court. See more about these different roles in the Who’s who in court? section

You can also bring friends, family, or whānau to be with you in court for support.

You can call Victim Support 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected with a Support Worker. We are here for you.

When you arrive
The court is kept safe and secure, so you will probably be asked first to go through court security. When you get inside the court building, the court staff can explain where to go. They’ll be wearing name badges. All court staff, lawyers, and the police know to treat victims with respect and consideration. Your safety needs are a priority.  

If you have concerns about seeing the defendant, or their family and whānau, speak with your Court Victim Advisor about how and when you might see them. Knowing what to expect can help. You could also ask them if there is an option to view the proceedings via audio-visual link in a private space. Some courts have a whānau room where you can eat, drink, and talk privately, away from the defendant. The topic above also talks about using available personal support at court, which you may wish to do.

In the court room
A court room is quite a formal place. You’re not allowed to eat or drink there, wear a hat or sunglasses, talk during evidence, disturb others, swear, take notes, recordings, or images, or use your mobile phone.

A diagram of a typical court room.
Click here to see a diagram of a typical court room.

Types of hearings
Criminal cases can either be heard by a judge alone or by a judge and jury.

  • A jury trial is heard by a judge and jury, which is a group of 12 people from the community. The jury’s role is to listen to the evidence provided in the court and to give a verdict on the basis of that evidence. The verdict states if they believe the defendant to be guilty or innocent of the crime/s.
  • A judge-alone trial is only heard by a judge and only the judge decides on the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

The approach used will depend on the category of the criminal offence (see link below). The defendant can also request which type of hearing they would like for their case, if they choose to, but the final decision is made by the judge.

You can read more about the different categories of crime here.

Other useful websites and information

A diagram of a typical court room.

Downloads

Your rights as a victim