Giving Evidence in Criminal Matters
There are various circumstances that may require a person to give evidence in court. A person may be summonsed as a witness if they saw or heard something, if they were the alleged victim of a crime, or if they were involved in some other way. A person may also be called to give evidence as an expert if they are a skilled and experienced professional such as a doctor. This page is about giving evidence in criminal cases.
Summons to attend court
If you are summoned to testify in a criminal case, you must comply with the summons or risk being charged with contempt of court. Failure to appear may even result in a warrant being issued for your arrest.
If you are unable to attend court due to a medical emergency or some other unforeseen circumstance, you should contact the court as soon as possible to provide an explanation.
Read over your statement
If you made a statement, it is advisable to review it prior to appearing in court to refresh your memory of the events.
It is important not to discuss your testimony with other witnesses before or during court proceeding.
Both the prosecutor and defence lawyer may seek to speak with you before you testify. If any information is missing from your statement or if you believe anything is incorrect, it is important to inform them.
When attending court, you should dress in a neat and conservative manner. Prior to entering the courtroom, make sure to turn off your phone and remove any headwear or sunglasses. Upon entering and exiting the courtroom, it is customary to bow or nod to the magistrate as a sign of respect.
Giving evidence under oath or affirmation
When called to provide testimony, you will be given the option to take an oath or an affirmation.
You may elect to take a religious oath and swear on a holy book such as the Bible or the Koran that your testimony will be truthful.
If you are not religious, you can choose to take an affirmation, which is a non-religious commitment to tell the truth to the best of your ability.
Regardless of whether you choose a religious oath or an affirmation, you have the same obligation to provide truthful testimony to the court to the best of your ability.
Children giving evidence
Child witnesses may be asked to make an informal promise to tell the truth rather than a formal oath or affirmation. If a child can understand the difference between truth and lies, they are competent to give evidence. This can be determined by questioning the child appropriately based on their age and level of maturity.
If a person is a vulnerable witness, such as a victim of sexual assault or an individual with an intellectual disability, they may be eligible to receive additional assistance when appearing in court. This could include having a support person present while they give evidence or being permitted to give testimony from a different room or behind a screen, so that they do not have to see the accused person (if they are a prosecution witness).
Giving evidence in court
When you are giving evidence in court, both the prosecution and defence will ask you questions. You will first give your examination-in-chief and then face cross-examination. It is important to answer truthfully and as fully as possible.
If you do not understand a question or cannot remember something, just say so. Take your time to answer and speak clearly while remaining calm.
In criminal matters, there are strict rules governing the questions that can be asked of witnesses. For instance, unless you are an expert witness, you cannot be asked to give your opinion unless it is a matter of common knowledge. Inadmissible hearsay evidence cannot be given by witnesses.
If either the defence or prosecution lawyer asks an inappropriate question, the other party may object, and the evidence may be interrupted while the lawyers make submissions about which questions are allowed. After giving evidence, you will be asked to leave the witness box and may either leave court or stay and watch the remainder of the hearing from the public gallery.
If you need legal advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.