Guide to giving evidence
As a witness, you'll be asked questions about what happened, or what you know about the crime. This is called giving evidence. More information about the role of witnesses is available on our website. The following information will help you to get ready for giving evidence to the court.
- You will answer questions after giving a promise to tell the truth. This is called an oath or affirmation.
How do I prepare for court?
- Check when you’re needed
Check the date and time for giving evidence in court and put it in your calendar. If you’re not sure about the date, get in touch with us as soon as possible.
The prosecutor will let you know if there are any changes to the proceedings, and when you need to arrive at court.
Remember: Just because a trial or hearing starts on a certain day doesn’t always mean you’ll give evidence on that day. The court process can take time and court dates often change.
- Read over your statement
As a witness you will have made a statement to the investigator, telling them everything you remember about what happened.
Before you give evidence to the court, think about what you said in your statement, particularly about dates, times, names, and events. It’s also a good idea to refresh your memory about any documents (or other exhibits like photos or receipts) that you might have mentioned in your statement.
If there is anything in your statement you would like to add or change, tell the prosecutor as soon as possible before your court date.
Remember: You should read over your statement before going to court as you won’t be able to have the statement in front of you when you give your evidence.
- Don’t discuss your evidence
It’s important not to discuss your evidence with anyone else, especially other witnesses. However, you can speak with the prosecutor about your evidence if you have any questions.
- Attending a witness conference
Before giving your evidence, you may be asked to attend a conference with the prosecutor to go over the kinds of questions you may be asked, and to talk about the process or any concerns you might have.
It’s important that you always tell the truth, and to let your prosecutor know if you have any concerns or questions about any aspect of giving evidence.
Remember: Read over your statement before any conference and think about questions you might want to ask the prosecutor.
Your day in court
What do I do when I arrive?
When you arrive at court, get in touch with the prosecutor to let them know you’re there. They will show you where to wait.
If you get lost or can’t find the courtroom, speak to the court security or registry staff and they will help you to find the right place. You can always call the CDPP and someone will help you.
When do the courts open?
Courts are usually open from 8:30am to 5pm. Your court case will most likely be heard between 10am and 4pm, with a short break for morning tea and 60 minutes for lunch. These times may vary between courts.
You will be given plenty of notice about when you need to attend court. This is most likely to be sent to you in a letter, but you can also call the prosecutor to make sure of the details and the time you are needed.
How long will I need to be at court?
You will probably need to wait for some time before it’s your turn to give evidence. We recommend you bring something to do while you wait. You may also like to read over your statement while waiting for your turn to give evidence.
It’s also a good idea to make alternative arrangements so you don’t have to worry about getting back to work, collecting your child from care, or meeting other obligations.
Some employers provide special types of leave to attend court. You may also be entitled to paid leave on the days you have to give evidence. [Link to support services.]
When can I go inside the courtroom?
As a witness, you can’t be in the court before you give your evidence. A court officer or bailiff or prosecutor will let you know when it’s time for you to appear, and they will bring you into the courtroom.
When you enter the courtroom, you will need to pause to acknowledge the judge or magistrate. This means you bow by nodding your head respectfully. When you’ve done this, you will be taken to the witness stand and sworn in by taking an oath or affirmation to tell the truth.
Remember: Make sure you’ve turned off your mobile phone and any other electronic devices before you go into the courtroom.
When it is your turn to give evidence, a court officer or prosecutor will invite you into the courtroom and take you into the witness box. A court officer will then ask you to take either an oath or an affirmation.
Both oaths and affirmations are types of promises, and in court you use them to promise that you will be truthful in the evidence you provide to the court. An oath is a religious promise, where a person puts their hand on a holy book (such as the Bible or Koran), while an affirmation is a promise to tell the truth without being religious.
The court takes both oaths and affirmations seriously, so it’s up to you which type of promise you decide to make. You will need to tell the court officer which you would prefer so they can give you the right words to say.
The court will generally have religious books such as the Bible, Koran and Torah available, but it’s best to tell your prosecutor in advance so they can make sure the court has the one you need.
When you give evidence in court, you will usually be asked questions by both the prosecutor and the defendant’s lawyer.
Generally the prosecutor will ask questions first. Then the defendant’s lawyer has the opportunity to ask you further questions and clarify the answers you gave to the prosecutor. This is called cross-examination.
After the defence has finished questioning you, the prosecutor may ask you some further questions. The judge or magistrate may ask you questions at any time during your evidence.
Remember: When giving evidence, your job is to answer the questions asked of you truthfully and to the best of your knowledge.
Tips for giving evidence:
- Listen carefully to the questions and make sure you understand what is being asked before you answer.
- If you don’t understand the question it is alright to say so.
- Never try to guess the answer to a question. If you don’t know the answer to the question, or can’t remember, it is important to say so.
- Don’t feel pressured to answer the question quickly. Take your time to think before answering.
- Try to answer clearly and in a loud voice.
- You may be asked the same question more than once.
- You should address the judge or magistrate as ‘Your Honour’, or if you forget, sir or madam.
- If a lawyer or the defendant says they ‘object’ to a question you have been asked, or an answer you are starting to give, stop speaking and wait for the magistrate or judge to deal with the objection and tell you what to do.
When you’ve been asked the last question, the judge or magistrate will tell you that you are ‘excused’. This means you can leave the witness box, and that you are free to leave the court. You can also sit at the back of the courtroom in the public gallery and watch what happens.
Once you have finished giving evidence you probably won’t be needed back in the courtroom for the rest of the trial. Your prosecutor will let you know what is happening with the court case, but as it may take several weeks or months for the trial to be finalised, it might be some time before you know the outcome.
What do I do if I’m worried about giving evidence?
It is normal to feel anxious or intimidated about going to court to give evidence. If you are worried about giving evidence, please let the prosecutor know.
Depending on the type of evidence you are giving, the court may make special arrangements to reduce the stress of giving evidence. These are called vulnerable witness protections. [Link to this info in mega menu 1]. Some of the ways the court can do this include:
- Allowing you to give evidence from somewhere outside the courtroom by video link.
- Restricting contact with the defendant or members of the public while you give your evidence.
- Allowing a support person [Link to FS being developed by Caroline] to be in the courtroom when you give your evidence.
- Removing members of the public from the courtroom while you give your evidence.
If you are a victim of certain types of crimes, legislation may stop people publishing your name or identifying you. If you would like advice about whether this applies to you, please discuss this with your prosecutor.
Victims and witnesses who have English as a second language
If you are a victim or witness, and need an interpreter before and during the court case, your WAS officer or prosecutor will organise one for you.
The CDPP is responsible for ensuring prosecution witnesses have access to interpretation services.
Interpreters can also help you to write your Victim Impact Statement, attend meetings between you and the prosecutor, and, in some cases, may be able to go to court to help you.
- If you think you may need support to understand what is happening to you during the prosecution process because English is your second language, talk to your WAS Officer or prosecutor to ensure you get the help you need.
How can I get an interpreter?
If you think you may have trouble speaking or understanding English during the prosecution process, let us know as soon as you can. We will then organise an interpreter for you.
- If you are unsure about whether you need an interpreter, or have any questions about getting one, you are always welcome to talk to us. We are very happy to help.
What happens if I can’t make it to court?
Failing to attend court when you have been told to can have serious consequences. If you don’t arrive, the court may ask the police to arrest you and bring you to court.
It is very important you keep in touch with your prosecutor, especially if you think you won’t be able to make it to the court on time.
If something happens that means you can’t come to court on the day, for example your car breaks down or you have a sick child, contact the CDPP as soon as possible so we can let the court know and try to arrange another day for you to give evidence.
- It’s a good idea to let your prosecutor know as early as possible if you are planning to go away, have a medical procedure, or have other plans that will keep you away from court. The prosecutor can then plan their strategy to accommodate you where possible.
Remember: Depending on the reason, the court may refuse to hear your evidence on another day. The judge or magistrate may order you to appear. If that happens you will have to come, or risk being arrested and brought before the court. Talk to us at any time if you have any concerns about when you may be called to give your evidence.
Can I give evidence remotely?
Depending on your circumstances and the type of case you’re involved in, it may be possible for you to give evidence outside the courtroom, or from another place altogether. The judge or magistrate hearing your case will decide whether you can do this.
- If you would like to give evidence remotely, please talk to the prosecutor and explain why it would help you. If one of the reasons is you’re afraid or concerned about giving evidence in the courtroom, there may be special arrangements [LC1] that can be put in place.
[LC1]link to Vulnerable Witness Protections section