Arriving at court
On the day you have to give evidence, plan to arrive 30 minutes before court starts, which in NSW is 9.30am in Local Courts and 10am in District Courts. Many courts have airport-style security screening, which can cause delays. In some court buildings it can also take time to find your way around.
The ODPP prosecutor, the police officer in charge of the case (the OIC), or your WAS officer will usually arrange to meet you at a particular spot. If they haven’t done so, go through security and ask at the court office or inquiry counter where you should wait. Court officers who can help you will normally wear a red badge or a uniform. At times they will go in and out of the courtroom calling names and checking who is there.
Some court buildings, like the Downing Centre in Sydney, have special meeting places for witnesses.
You will be able to find the courtroom number on the daily court list in the foyer or entrance of the court house but it’s important not to go into the courtroom until it’s your turn to give evidence. This is so you don’t hear what other witnesses say. It’s also important not to discuss the case with other witnesses while waiting to go into court.
In most court houses, everyone goes through the same entrance. This means you might see the accused if they are on bail, or their family, somewhere in the building. If this would make you feel unsafe, tell the police officer in charge, the ODPP prosecutor, or your WAS officer before your court date. On the day, you can also tell a court officer if you are feeling uncomfortable or threatened.
What to wear
Court proceedings are serious and it’s best to wear conservative clothes. Men don’t have to wear a suit and tie but all witnesses should aim to look neat and tidy. Some courtrooms can be cold, so it’s a good idea to pack something warm.
Prepare for delays
Even though it’s important to arrive early, delays are common in courts and you may have to wait before you are called to give evidence, sometimes for a couple of hours. Bring something to read or do to help pass the time. You might also want to pack some food and drink for before or after you give your evidence (you can’t eat or drink in the courtroom, although you can ask for a glass of water if you need one).
Can my friends and family come with me to court?
Courts are usually open to the public, so in most matters your friends and family will be able to sit in the public gallery of the courtroom when you give evidence, unless they are also witnesses in the matter.
Vulnerable witnesses can bring a support person with them into court. The magistrate or judge will normally allow a support person to sit close by while the witness gives their evidence.
Court sitting hours in NSW are usually 9.30am to 4pm in the Local Court and 10am to 4pm in the District and Supreme Courts, with a break of about 15 to 30 minutes for morning tea and between 1pm and 2pm for lunch. The court building will usually be open before 9.30am.