Giving evidence

What to do when you have to give evidence at court.

If you are needed as a witness in a court case, you will be sent a summons or a subpoena.

Court dates can change at short notice and you may need to go more than once.

If you are a witness, you are not allowed in the courtroom before you give your evidence.

Services can help you get ready to go to court and support you on the day.

For some people, going to court and giving evidence can be a worrying or difficult experience. But you do not have to do it alone, support is available.

Before the day

Being prepared to go to court ahead of time can help make the experience a lot less stressful. You can find out more about getting ready to go to court.

Court times and dates can change at short notice, so please recheck them the day before.

What do I need to bring with me?

It is a good idea to read over the written statement so that you remember what you said.

You may also want to bring:

  • money for food, drinks or car parking (as these are not provided)
  • something to do as you may have to wait for a while.

You may be able to claim for some of your expenses as a witness.

Arriving at court

Please get to court at least 30 minutes before the time on your summons or subpoena. It can take some time to enter a court building and find the right court room.

When you arrive:

  1. There will be a security check at the entrance.
  2. Find the Daily Court List on the notice board in the foyer of the court.
  3. Find the accused person’s name on your summons or subpoena.
  4. Check for the accused person’s name on the Daily Court List, and write down the court room number.
  5. If you have any questions, ask at the reception area.
  6. Go to the court room and wait outside for the police officer in charge of the case (the police informant).

Rules of the court room

If you are a witness in the case, you are not allowed in the court room before you give your evidence.

When you go into or leave the court room, you must bow or nod to the judge or magistrate.

When the judge or magistrate goes into or leaves the court room, you must stand up. You can call the judge or magistrate ‘Your Honour’.

In the court room you are not allowed to:

  • eat or drink
  • wear a hat or sunglasses
  • talk while a witness is giving evidence
  • be disruptive at any time
  • use your mobile phone.

Making an oath or affirmation

When your name is called, you will stand in the witness box at the front of the court room. Before you give evidence, you will have to make a promise to tell the truth. You can choose to take an oath (a religious promise) or to make an affirmation (a non-religious promise).

If you would prefer to make an affirmation instead of taking an oath, tell the court officer when you arrive at court.

Giving evidence

When you give your evidence, you will be asked questions. This can be done by:

  • the prosecution (the legal team that is responsible for proving the accused person is guilty)
  • the accused person’s legal team (that is responsible for defending the accused person)
  • the judge or magistrate.

In some cases, the accused person may represent themselves and ask you questions, although there are some crimes, like sexual assault or family violence, where this is not allowed.

When giving evidence:

  • take your time
  • remain calm and speak clearly
  • if you do not understand a question or you did not hear it properly, you can ask for it to be repeated.

If you feel upset or distressed:

  • pause
  • take some deep breaths or have a drink of water
  • try to relax
  • continue only when you are ready.

Once you are excused from the court you are free to leave. You can also stay to see the rest of the hearing from the public seating area of the court.

Evidence from vulnerable witnesses and victims

Usually, a victim or witness will give evidence in the courtroom itself. However, there are special arrangements (called provisions) that may be available for particularly vulnerable witnesses. This includes children, young people and people with a cognitive impairment.

These arrangements 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.

Children and young people supported by Child Witness Service can give evidence remotely via closed circuit television in the child-friendly surroundings with support of a Child Witness Officer.

Vulnerable witnesses can ask the prosecutor to apply to the court to give evidence using these arrangements. If you would like the prosecutor to do this, let them know as soon as you can. It is up to the judge or magistrate to decide whether to grant permission.

Support to go to court

Victims Assistance Program

The Victims Assistance Program can:

  • explain the court process
  • help you prepare to go to court
  • help you write a Victim Impact Statement.

Call the Victims of Crime Helpline on 1800 819 817.

Court Network

A trained volunteer can:

  • show you around the court before the hearing
  • be with you on the day to offer support.

Call the Court Network on 1800 681 614.

Victims and Witness Assistance Service (Office of Public Prosecutions)

If your case is being handled by the Office of Public Prosecutions, the Victims and Witness Assistance Service can:

  • give you information about the progress of your case
  • explain the court process
  • support you through meetings with the prosecution team
  • help you with arrangements for being in court
  • connect you with other support services.

Call the Victims and Witness Assistance Service on 1800 641 927.

Child Witness Service

A team of qualified social workers, psychologists and practitioners, who can:

  • prepare children and young people for the role of being a witness and support them when they give evidence
  • liaise with police and prosecution teams and provide case updates
  • support child witnesses and their families throughout the criminal proceedings
  • provide referrals for child witnesses to community agencies following the end of the court case if they need ongoing support.

Call the Child Witness Service on 1300 790 540.