What is a support person?
A support person assists and supports the person who is a victim of crime when that person is a witness in a court hearing. Your role as a support person is to help the witness before and during the hearing. For example, you may accompany the witness, give emotional and psychological support, reassure the witness and explain what is happening.
Who can be a support person?
The witness chooses their support person. Sometimes in court the defence lawyer might object to the choice of support person and it is then up to the Judge to decide. A support person can be a friend or a family member of the witness, or a professional counsellor or a person from a witness support group. The witness may have one or more support persons, for example, a family member and a professional counsellor. A support person cannot be someone who is going to give evidence in the case.
Before the court hearing
Before the court hearing you should ask the witness how they would like you to assist and support them at the court hearing. Also before the hearing the witness usually meets with the ODPP lawyer and the Crown Prosecutor to discuss the evidence. You can accompany the witness to this meeting and, if the witness and the ODPP lawyer agree, stay at the meeting to support the witness.
At the court hearing
Make sure you tell the ODPP lawyer and Crown Prosecutor that you are the support person for the witness. Check that you are allowed in the courtroom and if so, where you can sit – with the witness or in the body of the court.
If the hearing is a closed court, it means it is closed to the public. You must ask the ODPP lawyer or the Crown Prosecutor to seek permission from the court for you to stay in the courtroom.
In the courtroom, you may support the witness, for example, by keeping in eye contact with the witness or by sitting where the witness can see you without seeing the person who is charged with the crime.
When the hearing stops for lunch or at other times you may accompany the witness in and out of the courtroom.
What you must not do
You must not talk about the evidence with the witness before or during the court hearing or during breaks or between adjournments. You must not help the witness to prepare the evidence, and you must not rehearse what he or she is going to say.
You must not help the witness to answer questions or tell the witness what to say when he or she is giving evidence. You must not give body signals to the witness about their evidence. Also you must not behave in a way that looks as if you are helping or telling the witness what to say. If you do you may be removed from the courtroom.
You must not take notes in the court hearing.
You must not touch the witness during the court hearing. If the witness becomes upset, or if you have any concerns, please raise these with the court officer.
What if the witness gives evidence via closed circuit television?
When closed circuit television (CCTV) is used, the witness gives evidence in a separate witness room. This witness room is often used when a child gives evidence. The witness room is part of the court and the same rules apply as set out above. Usually the Court Officer is also in the room with you and the witness. The Judge or Magistrate can see you and all the other people in the room even when the equipment is turned off. When the equipment is turned off, is not transmitting or breaks down, you may assist or comfort the witness, but you must not talk about the case or the evidence.
For more information about the role of a support person at court: Supporting Victims and Witnesses at Court: Information for court support persons