There are a number of reasons a person may be required to give evidence in a court. A person might be called as a witness to give evidence if they are:
- the victim of a crime
- the person making a complaint or a claim about a civil matter (the plaintiff)
- another person who has direct information about a crime or a civil matter
- an expert witness who has been engaged to give their specialist opinion.
Witnesses can be asked to attend court by either the prosecution or the defence side of a matter.
What will happen
If you are required to give evidence in court, you will be advised or sent a letter (a 'subpoena' or a 'witness summons') telling you which court to go to and the date and time to appear.
At the court hearing, when it is your turn to give evidence, your name will be called and you will be shown to the witness box at the front of the courtroom. A court officer will ask you whether you want to take a religious oath or to make a non-religious affirmation. An oath or affirmation is a promise to tell the truth.
When you have taken the oath or affirmation, you may be asked questions by the legal representative of both the plaintiff/prosecution side and the respondent/accused person's side. In some cases, the person involved in the crime or civil matter may be representing themselves and will ask the questions.
The judge or magistrate may also ask you questions about your evidence.
When giving evidence, take your time, remain calm and speak clearly. If you don't understand a question or you did not hear the question properly, ask for it to be repeated. If you feel upset or distressed, pause, take some deep breaths, or have a drink of water, and relax. Continue only when you are ready.
As a witness, once you are excused from the court you are free to leave.
Many of the Victorian courts and tribunals have information on their websites to help people understand and prepare for what will happen in court or at a tribunal hearing. Some websites have video tours to show you where you’ll sit and where other people will sit in the room. There are also support services available through the courts.
Evidence from vulnerable witnesses and victims in criminal cases
Generally, a victim or witness will give evidence in the courtroom itself. However, special provisions may be available in criminal cases for particularly vulnerable witnesses. This includes children and people with a cognitive impairment. If this applies to you, special provisions may include:
- having a friend or relative in court while you give evidence, provided that this support person is not also appearing as a witness
- having a screen in the court, so you do not have to see the accused person while you give evidence
- having the court closed to the public while you give evidence
- giving your evidence on closed circuit television.
Vulnerable witnesses can ask the prosecutor to apply to the court to give evidence using these special provisions. It is up to the judge or magistrate to decide whether to grant permission to use them.