If you have received a summons or subpoena to appear as a witness in a criminal or civil trial, then you are required to attend court. If you do not attend court at the listed date and time and without a reasonable excuse, then you may be charged with contempt of court or a warrant may be issued for your arrest. As the schedule for trials will often change, you should contact the party that has called you as a witness prior to the listed date and time, to confirm your attendance.
As a witness, it is likely that you have previously provided a written statement to the party that has called you as a witness in the case. Prior to giving your evidence in court, read over your written statement and refresh your memory in respect of the event that you will be questioned about. For example, when it occurred (the date and time), what you saw or heard and who was present. If any part of your statement is incorrect, then you should inform the prosecution or defence right away.
When you arrive on the day, you will need to wait outside of the courtroom until the court is ready to hear your evidence. As you cannot wait inside of the courtroom, you may bring a book, magazine or mobile phone to occupy yourself while you wait. If the court cannot hear your evidence on that day, then you may be required to return to court on another day.
When it is your turn to give evidence, you will swear an oath or make an affirmation to tell the truth. First, you will be asked questions by the party that has called you. This is called examination in chief. Then, you may be asked questions by the other party in the case. This is called cross examination. You may then be re-questioned by the party that has called you before being released as a witness.
After your evidence is given, you can leave the court or remain in the public gallery of the courtroom to observe the remainder of the evidence being given.
You must tell the truth when giving evidence. So listen carefully to the questions, ask that the question be repeated if you did not hear it, do not feel pressured to answer quickly and do not guess the answer if you do not know. It will also assist the court if you answer the questions in a clear and loud voice.
A person who knowingly makes a false statement under oath or affirmation may be charged with an offence carrying a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment.
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