If you have been summonsed to give evidence in a criminal matter, you are required to comply and are may be charged with contempt of court if you do not attend and a warrant may be issued for your arrest. If you have to deal with a medical emergency or some other exceptional circumstance prevents you from giving evidence in court, you should contact the court as soon as possible to explain the situation.
You may be asked to give evidence if you saw or heard something relevant to the case or were involved in some way. You may also be asked to give evidence as an expert witness, such as a doctor, about the evidence presented.
Read over your statement
If you are a prosecution witness, you would have made a statement to the police setting out everything you remember about what happened. If you are a defence witness, you probably made a statement to the defence lawyer. Before you go to court, you should read over your statement to refresh your memory of what happened. Try to remember as many specifics such as dates, times, names and words spoken.
Remember not to discuss your evidence with any other witness.
Before you give your evidence the prosecutor and defence lawyer may ask to speak with you. If there is anything missing from your statement or anything that you think is incorrect, you should let them know.
Dress neatly and tidily for court. Before you enter the courtroom, ensure that your phone is switched off and remove any hats and sunglasses from your head. Bow or nod to the magistrate when you enter the courtroom and again when you leave the courtroom.
Oath or affirmation
When you are called to give your evidence, you will be asked whether you want to take an oath or an affirmation. Whether you take an oath or an affirmation you have the same duties to tell the truth in your evidence to the best of your abilities.
If you believe in God, you can choose to take a religious oath and swear on the Bible that the evidence you give will be the truth. You can also choose to swear an oath on another scripture such as the Koran.
If you are not religious, you can choose to take an affirmation instead of an oath. An affirmation is a non-religious promise to tell the truth.
If a child is giving evidence, they can be asked to make a promise to tell the truth in a form that is not a formal oath or affirmation. A child is a competent witness provided they are capable of understanding the difference between the truth and a lie. This can be established by asking the child questions in accordance with what is appropriate for their age and maturity.
If you are a vulnerable witness, such as the victim of a sexual assault or a person with an intellectual disability, you may be able to receive extra help to making giving evidence in court easier. This may include having a support person with you while you are giving evidence or being allowed to give evidence from another room or from behind a screen so that you do not have to see the defendant.
If you feel you need to be treated as a vulnerable witness, speak to the prosecution (or the defence, if the defence has called you) and they can apply to the court for you. The court will decide if you should be treated as a vulnerable witness and how your needs should be accommodated.
Giving evidence in court
When you are giving evidence in court, you will be asked questions by both the prosecution and the defence. You will first be asked to give your examination-in-chief. You will then be subjected to cross-examination. You must answer truthfully and as completely as you are able to. If you do not understand a question or you cannot remember something, it is ok to say so. You can take as much time as you need to answer. Speak clearly and remain calm while giving evidence in court.
There are strict rules about what questions a witness can be asked in a criminal matter. For example, you cannot be asked to give your opinion except on a matter that is common knowledge. You cannot be asked to give evidence that is inadmissible hearsay. If either the defence or the prosecution lawyers asks you a question that threatens to break these rules, the other party may ‘object’. This means that your evidence may be interrupted while the lawyers make submissions to the court as to what sorts of questions should or should not be allowed.
Once you have finished giving evidence in court, you will be asked to leave the witness box. You may then leave court or watch the rest of the hearing from the public gallery.
If you need legal assistance in a criminal matter or in any other legal matter, please contact Go To Court Lawyers.