A witness is very important in the criminal justice process.

If you are a witness, it may mean that you:

    1. have been a victim of a crime;
    2. have seen or heard something in connection with a crime;
    3. have information about someone accused of a crime (referred to as the "accused"); or
    4. have information relating to the victim of the crime (sometimes referred to as the "complainant").

Witnesses play a vital role by giving information to the court.

The information given is called "evidence" or "testimony".

The courts need witnesses to give evidence so they can build a picture of what happened. This will help the court decide[1] whether the accused is guilty of the crime he has been charged with.

A witness can be asked to attend court by the Prosecution or the Defence.

The Prosecution represents the state. It consists of Prosecutors. Investigation Officers (from the police) usually help the Prosecutors when a case has been fixed for a hearing in court. You may already have given information in the form of a statement to the Investigation Officer or another police officer. Prosecutors present the case for the Prosecution against the accused. They must present enough evidence to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that the accused is guilty of the crime he has been charged with.

If the accused is represented by a lawyer, his lawyer is often referred to as the "Defence Counsel". Defence Counsel act on behalf of the accused. You may also have given information to the Defence Counsel. The role of the Defence Counsel is to test the evidence presented by the Prosecution in court and to "put" the accused's position to the witness. If there is more than one accused, there may be more than one Defence Counsel in court. Each may ask the witness questions about their evidence.

A witness giving evidence in court must answer truthfully all questions posed by the:

    1. Prosecutors;
    2. Defence Counsel (or the accused, if the accused is not represented by a lawyer); and
    3. Judge

The Judge is the person in charge of the court proceedings. He will ensure that:

    1. everything is done fairly within the law;
    2. rules and procedures are followed; and
    3. the interests of all those involved in the proceedings are protected.

A witness must:

    1. never alter his evidence to benefit anyone; or
    2. never try to influence the evidence of another witness.

The subpoena and court date/time

If you are required to be a witness, you will receive a summons to appear in court. The summons is often referred to as the "subpoena".

A subpoena is an order that a person attend court on a specified date and time to give evidence as a witness. A subpoena must not be ignored.

The subpoena may sometimes require the witness to produce documents. If so, the subpoena will list the documents the witness must produce.

Unless the subpoena is set aside by the court, you must attend court on the specified date and time. If you fail to attend court, you will be guilty of contempt of court. You may then be fined or imprisoned.

You should let your employer know in advance if you have been subpoenaed as a witness.

You should speak to the party who subpoenaed you to be a witness if:

    1. you are worried about giving evidence in court;
    2. you have any questions (whether about the processes or otherwise);
    3. you have any particular needs; and
    4. you have any particular concerns or difficulties.

The Witness Support Programme provides support to vulnerable witnesses who have to give evidence in court.

What you should wear to court

You should always be dressed neatly and decently when entering a courthouse and in the courtroom.

Last updated on: 13/12/2019 5:38 PM


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