A GUIDE TO APPEARING AS A WITNESS IN COURT
What is a witness?
If you have seen or know something about an alleged crime you are considered to be a witness. You may receive a subpoena, which is a legal document stating that you are required to go to court and give evidence about the alleged crime.
What if I refuse to attend court?
You cannot refuse a subpoena to be a witness in court and if you do you could be charged with a criminal offence.
If you have been asked in a subpoena to provide documents to a court, you must comply with the request. However, in some cases you may be able to claim ‘privilege’ over the documents, but you will need to talk to a lawyer about this in advance.
What if I am concerned for my safety?
If you are concerned for your or someone else’s safety, you can talk to the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) or the police about what arrangements can be made to protect you or minimise any stress and trauma you may feel.
If you have any specific concerns about the evidence you have been asked to give, you should consider getting legal advice first.
What do I need to know when giving evidence?
When giving evidence in court, listen closely to the questions and answer exactly what you have been asked. Focus on answering honestly and accurately. If you need some time to think about your answer you are allowed to do so. If you do not understand a question you are allowed to say so. You cannot use any notes while giving evidence, unless the judicial officer allows it.
As a witness you must cooperate with any orders the court makes. If you deliberately fail to comply with a court order, or you are later found to have deliberately lied to the court, then you could be charged with a criminal offence.
As a witness am I allowed to talk about a court case?
As a witness, it is very important that you do not discuss your evidence with anyone at all before or during the case. That includes other witnesses who might be present at court.
Once you have given your evidence and have been excused from the court by the magistrate or judge, you will need to check (usually with the ODPP) whether you are allowed tell people details about the case. Sometimes you will have to wait until the legal proceedings are over before you can talk to your family or friends about it.
Is there further info or support available about being a witness?
There is more info, advice and other resources about attending court as a witness on the ODPP website here.
The ODPP also provides a Witness Assistance Service (WAS), which provides a range of supports to witnesses to answer any questions you might have and help reduce the stress of giving evidence in court. Further info about how the WAS can support you is available here.