Being a witness in a Court case can be a upsetting experience when you are unsure of what it will be like and what you need to do. The Witness Assistance Service can assist in answering your questions and helping you to know what to expect.
When an offence occurs the Police investigate the matter and obtain witness statements as evidence about what happened. If you are a witness that is required to give evidence at Court in a criminal matter you will be served a Summons or Subpoena by the Police telling you that you have to come to Court on a certain day. When this happens you must attend Court.
If you do not attend, you can be fined and the Court can issue a warrant for your arrest. If you are arrested for not attending Court you can be held in custody until you have attended Court.
Witnesses are entitled to claim loss of wages and any other incidental expenses incurred in attending Court. Find out more information about what you can claim here claiming expenses and loss of wages.
Court hearings and trials are scheduled in advance and attempts will be made to contact you to confirm your availability prior to the date being set. If you do have a problem with coming to Court on the day you need to contact the prosecutor as soon as possible prior to the Court day to discuss this.
Yes, unless the Judge tells you that you do not have to answer a particular question. You do not have to answer any question that might incriminate you, that is, might result in your admitting that you have committed an offence.
No. If you do not wish to swear on the bible, you may elect to make a promise to the Court to tell the truth. The Judge will ask you which you prefer to do when you are first called into Court.
Telling a lie when giving evidence is a serious offence punishable by imprisonment.
You can contact the Witness Assistance Service or the prosecutor in charge of the case in your local area.
If English is not your first language and you need an Interpreter, please let the Witness Assistance Service Officer or prosecutor know this. We will arrange for an interpreter to be present at any meetings and for Court so that you are fully able to understand what you are being asked to talk about.
When preparing to come to Court, you should consider the following actions;
When you arrive at Court you need to let the Prosecutor know that you are there. Ask at the front desk where to find them if you are not sure. Try to arrive early so the Prosecutor has an opportunity to talk to you before Court starts.
Attending Court is a formal situation so it is expected you dress appropriately in neat, clean clothing with shoes. It is inappropriate to wear clothing that displays rude slogans or pictures. Please consider bringing a jacket or jumper as the Court can be cold. You may want to bring some food and water and a book or similar materials with you to keep entertained with while waiting to be called into Court as you need to remain at Court, except during the formal lunch break.
When the Court is ready to hear your evidence, your name will be called out by the Court Orderly. You must take off any headwear or sunglasses before entering and turn off your mobile phone.You need to follow the Orderly into the Court room. As you enter and leave the Court you need to nod or bow slightly to the Judge. You will be shown to the witness box and the Judge will ask you whether you want to make an Oath on the bible or a Promise to tell the truth to the Court. Once you have done this you can sit down and the Prosecutor will start to ask you questions. If you become upset or need to go to the toilet during questioning, you can ask for a break. Once you have completed giving your evidence you will be excused and can then leave the Court. You do not need to remain at the Court House after this. The case may continue to be heard so the Prosecutor may not be able to talk to you straight away and may contact you later.
As a witness in a criminal case you may be asked to attend one or more meetings with the Prosecutor or a Witness Assistance Service (WAS) Officer prior to attending Court. The legal term for this meeting is called a ‘proofing’.
The purpose of a proofing meeting is to prepare you to give your evidence in Court. The prosecutor will explain his/her role to you and the process for what will happen when you are called in to take the stand and provide your evidence. They may go through your statement with you or ask you to tell them what happened when the offence being alleged occurred. It is important to tell the prosecutor what you recall of the incident as this helps them in preparing the case. While the statement you gave the police is important, talking about the matter can sometimes help to make things clearer for the prosecutor or provide information that is relevant to the case. Answering questions about the incident will also help you to recall what happened and be able to tell the Court.
The prosecutor and a WAS Officer normally attend the proofing session with you. You can ask to have another support person present also if you want however any person who is also a witness in the same case can not be a support person for this. Witnesses are not permitted to discuss their evidence with each other. A family member, friend or counsellor can attend with you if you want.
Generally proofing meetings will be held either at the local Director for Public Prosecutions office or at the Court House. If you are living at a different location from the Court, then arrangements may be made to either transport you to where the prosecutor is; conduct the meeting over a video link or telephone or, if you are in a remote community, the prosecutor may travel out to see you.
Sometimes proofing meetings can be fairly short where the prosecutor simply wants to check your statement with you and give you information about the process. This is more likely in matters that are going to a hearing or a committal in the lower court and will usually take anywhere up to an hour. However, if it is a matter going to trial then sometimes it will take 2 – 3 hours, usually with a short rest break, or you will be asked to attend for more than one meeting. Although this might seem lengthy it will help you to be prepared for Court.
If English is not your first language and you need an Interpreter, please let the WAS Officer or prosecutor know this when they first contact you. We will arrange for an interpreter to be present at any meetings and for Court so that you are fully able to understand what you are being asked to talk about.
Children can be the victim of a crime or can see or hear something relating to a crime that will make them a witness in a Court case. Because children can be particularly susceptible to being led or influenced when giving evidence there are certain rules and arrangements put in place to safeguard them through this and to ensure that the process does not traumatise them.
When the police investigate a matter relating to a young child, they will normally conduct a Criminal Forensic Interview (CFI) where they video tape the child’s statement so this can later be played at Court as their evidence. In doing this the police will first ask a series of questions to ascertain the child has the capacity to understand and answer questions reliably.
The video or the statement is then provided to the Prosecutor handling the case. He/she will review the material and will usually ask to meet with the child to introduce themselves to the child and go through their evidence with them. A Witness Assistance Service (WAS) Officer will normally be involved and both they and Prosecutor will try to establish a rapport with the child to make them feel as secure and comfortable as possible. During these meetings the child will be assessed to determine if he/she:
If the child is assessed as not being able to give evidence, the Prosecutor will discuss the case options with their parent/guardian; this may include withdrawing the matter until the child is older.
If the child is considered capable of giving evidence in the matter then the Prosecutor will make arrangements to prepare them for Court. Special arrangements apply to children, particularly young children or children who are victims of sexual or serious violence offences
Children are deemed to be Vulnerable Witnesses under Part IIA 21A(1) of the Evidence Act which entitles them to have:
Additionally children who are victims of sexual or serious violence offences are also considered Protected Witnesses under the Justices Act. This means they:
Parents are encouraged to support the child as much as possible, however if you are also a witness in the case you can not be present when they discuss or give their evidence. In some cases, parents or a counsellor can provide support.Anyone providing support in Court may not talk to or respond to questions from the child during their evidence. This can be difficult for parents to do and sometimes children may struggle to talk in front of parents about what happened. A WAS Officer will normally provide support to the child while they give their evidence.
Having to give evidence in Court is a stressful experience, it is common for people to be nervous or worried about going to Court. For some people however the prospect of giving evidence in the court room, in front of the accused person can cause a high level of anxiety and intimidation. This is particularly so in cases of Family Violence, Sexual Assault, matters involving child witnesses or witnesses with special needs.
To try and reduce the possible trauma of giving evidence or to encourage the witness to feel safe enough to give their evidence an application can be made to the Court to deem them as a ‘Vulnerable Witness’. The criteria for who can been considered a Vulnerable Witness by the Court is set out in Part IIA 21A(1) of the Evidence Act.
The Court will need to hear an application for a witness to be deemed a Vulnerable Witness so it is important to talk with a Witness Assistance Service (WAS) Officer or the Prosecutor prior to the Court date, ask about being considered a Vulnerable Witness and provide them with information for the application to be made.
Ultimately the decision on this is made by the Judge hearing the matter. The Prosecutor can make an application but can not guarantee that the Court will agree to deem the witness as Vulnerable.
People who are considered to be Vulnerable Witnesses by the Court are able to have a range of options available to them in giving their evidence.
A support person is allowed to sit with the witness in the witness box and provide them with emotional support. The support person is not able to assist in explaining or answering any of the questions asked.
Placing a screen so the witness cannot see the accused helps the witness to concentrate on what they are asked and not be influenced by the behaviour or presence of the accused.
Some witnesses find talking about the details of the offence in front of others highly embarrassing or traumatic. They may also fear the reaction of the accused persons’ family or supporters to their evidence and possible repercussions of this outside of the Court. In such cases the Court can direct that only the accused, their lawyer and the Prosecutor may be present when their evidence is given.
Some witnesses can give their evidence from a separate room through CCTV where they do not have to see or be in the same place as the accused. However these facilities are not available in all Courts.
If English is not your first language and you need an Interpreter, just let the WAS Officer or prosecutor know this when they contact you. We will arrange for an interpreter to be present at Court so that you are fully able to understand what you are being asked to talk about.
When a person is a victim or becomes a witness in a criminal matter there are some forms of protection available to them if required.
Where the offender is known to the victim or witness there can sometimes be a concern for the person’s safety or pressure placed on the victim or witness to drop the charges or change their story. In these cases there are various things that can be done to assist in providing protection for them.
Where the offender is being considered for or granted bail, the police or prosecutor can ask the Court to include a condition that the person not be allowed to have any contact or approach the victim or witness while they are on bail.
If the offender does try to contact or approach that person, the police can arrest them for breaching their bail and they will have to go to Court. Their bail may be revoked by the Court and they might have to remain in prison until the Court matter is finalised.
Where the offender is a family member, including extended family or de facto relationships, to the victim, the victim may be able to apply for a Domestic Violence Order (DVO). The order can require the offender not to contact directly or indirectly with the victim, nor can they assault, threaten, harass or intimidate the victim. This means that if they were to send messages by text or email or through another person to the victim or contact them directly they would be in breach of that Order and could be arrested and charged for doing that.
Where the offender is not a family member but the victim can show reason for why the person should be subject to a personal violence order, such as they have committed or are likely to commit a personal violence offence against you, similar conditions to a DVO can be sought.
Even without any specific conditions placed on the alleged offender, they are not allowed to act in a way that would interfere with a witness. Nor is any other person such as a family member or friend of the offender. Interfering includes:
Contact the Police immediately if you are directly threatened or assaulted and report it to them.