- Hearing your name called
A court officer will call your name when it’s your turn to give evidence. You will then be shown to the witness box, which is usually at the front of the courtroom.
- Court behaviour
Behave respectfully while you are in court. It is custom to bow when you enter the courtroom and again when you leave, and to stand and bow when the judge or magistrate enters and leaves.
You should also switch off your mobile phone and take off your hat or cap and sunglasses. You cannot eat, drink or take notes when you are in the witness box (although you can ask for a drink of water if you need one).
- What to call the judge or magistrate
Judges (who sit in the District and Supreme Courts) and magistrates (who sit in the Local Court) are all addressed as ‘Your Honour’.
- Swearing to tell the truth
Before you take a seat, the magistrate, judge or a court officer will ask you whether you want to swear to tell the truth by taking an oath on a religious book, such as the Bible or Koran, or by what is called an ‘affirmation’. They will then read out the oath or affirmation for you to repeat. It is an offence to give false evidence after taking an oath or affirmation.
- Identifying yourself
You will be asked your name, and, if relevant, your occupation and address. If you don’t want to state your address in the courtroom, let the ODPP prosecutor know before you give your evidence.
- When the witness is a child
When the witness is a child, the judge or magistrate may ask them some questions about whether they understand the difference between telling the truth and telling lies before they begin giving their evidence
- Tips for giving evidence
Listen closely to the questions you are asked. Focus on answering honestly and accurately. If you need some time to think about an answer, say you need time. Don’t guess; if you don’t understand a question or are unsure how to answer it, say so. The events you are being asked about may have occurred a long time ago. If you can’t remember something you are asked about, don’t be afraid to say you can’t remember.
Speak clearly so your evidence can be heard and understood. The microphone in front of you only records your voice, it doesn’t make it louder.
If you are giving evidence about a conversation, try to repeat the words that were used. For example, if the accused is a male and said, ‘Move out of my way’ during the incident, the right way to give this evidence is to say, ‘He said, “Move out of my way”’, not ‘he told me to move out of his way’.
Answer the questions you are asked. For example, if the question is, ‘Do you know what street you were on when this occurred?’ and you do, just say ‘yes’ rather than giving the name of the street, even if it feels like it would be more helpful to give the street name.
- Your evidence-in-chief
The first part of your evidence is called your ‘evidence-in-chief’. It is when the prosecutor asks you questions about what happened, usually in the order that they happened.
The prosecutor might also show you photographs, or maps or diagrams of the crime scene, and ask you to identify them.
- The cross-examination
After you give your evidence-in-chief, the accused's lawyer (called ‘the defence’) will question you. This is called a ‘cross-examination’. It is the job of the defence to challenge your evidence, and the questions you are asked may upset or embarrass you, suggest you’re being untruthful, or seem rude and aggressive. Try not to get angry or to take it personally, just continue to answer each question honestly and clearly.
The defence will often make suggestions or statements to you such as ‘I put it to you …’ or ‘I suggest to you …’. If you don’t agree with something suggested or put to you, it is important to say so. If you don’t understand what you’re being asked, say you don’t understand.
- Other questions you may be asked
After you have been cross-examined, the ODPP prosecutor may ask you some follow-up questions to make sure that what you have said has been clearly understood. This is called a ‘re-examination’.
The magistrate or judge may also have some questions about your evidence.
While you are giving evidence, the defence might say, ‘Objection’, or the magistrate or judge might interrupt. If this happens, stop and wait until you are asked again to answer the question, or you are asked a different question.
- What if I make a mistake in my answers?
If you are still giving evidence, it is all right to tell the judge that you think you have made a mistake. If you have been excused after giving your evidence and the trial is still proceeding, you should contact the ODPP prosecutor.
- Can I ask for water or a tissue, or a toilet break?
If you need them, you can ask for a drink of water or a tissue while you are in the witness box. If you need to go to the bathroom or are feeling unwell, ask the magistrate or judge if you can have a break.
- Waiting outside while the magistrate/judge and lawyers talk
Sometimes the magistrate or judge and the lawyers will need to discuss a legal issue. If you are in the witness box, you will asked to step outside the courtroom. You could be called back at any moment, so stay close by.
- How long will I be in the witness box?
Talk to the prosecutor about how long you are likely to be in the witness box. It is very hard to give even a general guide as it depends on many factors, including the nature of the case, how long your statement is, and how much of your statement the defence wants to question you about. Some witnesses will be in the witness box for minutes only, others for hours or even days.
- What happens after I've given my evidence?
After you have given your evidence and have been excused by the magistrate or judge, you are free to leave. If you want to stay and listen to the case you can, unless there is a chance you will have to give evidence again later in the matter. Take a seat in the public gallery. (Remember, you won’t be able to claim witness expenses for any time you choose to spend in court after you have given your evidence.)
- Now can I talk about what I witnessed?
Even when you have given your evidence, you will need to check with the ODPP prosecutor or your WAS officer about whether you can talk about it to your family, friends or others. Sometimes you will have to wait until all the legal proceedings are over.
- What if I couldn't remember something when I was in the witness box but remember it later?
If the trial is still running then you should contact the ODPP prosecutor and let them know what you have remembered.
On the Day: Giving Evidence
Giving evidence at Court follows a set of procedures and processes that may be unfamiliar to most people. This section contains an outline of these procedures, some tips, and some answers to common questions, that will assist in you understanding of what will occur on the day.