When you may be a witness
You may be asked to attend court as a witness if you have information that can help the court come to a fair decision; for example, you saw or heard something relevant to the case or were involved in some way. Victims of violent crime are very important witnesses.
You may also be asked to go to court as an expert witness, such as a doctor or engineer, to provide advice about the evidence presented.
You may be a witness for the prosecution or the defence. In either case, both the defence and prosecution lawyers may ask you questions about what you know to ensure the facts presented about the crime are correct.
If you have documents relevant to the case, you may be asked to bring these with you.
Before a hearing or trial, the defendant may apply for bail. People who are allowed bail can go free if they sign a bail undertaking to appear on further court dates and follow any conditions the court sets.
Where possible, the police should tell witnesses of any bail applications. If the defendant is allowed bail, the police should tell you what the conditions are.
If you’re worried about the accused being granted bail, tell the police as it may be possible to oppose bail. If you fear for your or your family's safety, call the local police station immediately so they can take action.
If at any stage you are concerned about your safety, or that of your family or friends, contact the police immediately.
Support for witnesses and victims going to court
The court process can be daunting for a witness, particularly if you witness a violent crime. Information, support and advice are available to help you throughout the legal process:
- Victim Assist Queensland: Explains the legal process and helps you prepare for your appearance in court
- Relationships Australia: Provides free support and counselling to help you recover from the emotional and psychological impact of witnessing a crime
- Court Network: A voluntary service providing support, non-legal information and referral for people going to court.
Being a witness for the prosecution
If you’re a victim of crime, you may be asked to attend court as a witness for the prosecution.
If the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP) decides to prosecute the offender, the ODPP will appoint a victim liaison officer to help you throughout the court process.
- keep you informed of when the case will go to court
- tell you if you need to be a witness
- arrange for you to discuss what will happen in court
- organise a support person
- help you write a victim impact statement
- refer you to specialist support and counselling services.
Being ordered to go to court
You may be legally ordered to go to court as a witness, particularly if you’re a witness for the prosecution.
This is called a ‘summons’ if you’re needed as a witness in a Magistrates Court or a ‘subpoena’ in a District or Supreme Court.
If you’re summonsed or subpoenaed and don’t attend court, you may be found guilty of contempt of court and a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
When to go to court
A summons or subpoena should tell you the day the trial is due to start. If you’re unsure when to go to court, contact the person who requested you to appear. Their details should be on the summons or subpoena.
If you’re a victim of crime, your victim liaison officer or the prosecutor will tell you when to go to court. If you’re a witness for the defence, the defence lawyer will usually tell you.
In the courthouse
On the day, the person who asked you to attend court will meet you. They’ll take you to an area outside the courtroom to wait—some courthouses have secure waiting rooms for witnesses.
You can’t go into the courtroom until you’re called to give your evidence. Don’t discuss the case with other witnesses before you and they have given evidence.
Find out more about courtroom etiquette.
Vulnerable witnesses, including children, victims of sexual assault and people with an intellectual disability, may receive special help to reduce the trauma of giving evidence.
If you’re a vulnerable witness, you may be able to:
- have a support person with you in court
- record your evidence or give it over a video connection from a remote witness room
- have a screen put up so you don’t have to see the accused person
- have the court closed to the public and media.
If you feel you need special help, speak to the prosecutor who can apply to the court for you. The magistrate or judge will decide if you can have help.
A court official will call you to give evidence—a court services officer in a Magistrates Court or a bailiff in a District and Supreme Court. You will go into the witness box and take an oath or affirmation that what you say is the truth.
The defence and prosecution lawyers will then ask you questions about what you know:
- Answer only the questions they ask you.
- Take your time, keep calm and answer each question clearly.
- If you don't understand a question or you didn’t hear it properly, ask them to repeat it.
- If you feel upset or distressed, pause; you can ask for a break if you need to. Continue with your evidence only when you’re ready. Everyone in the court must hear and understand your evidence.
- Always tell the truth when you answer questions. It is a crime (perjury) to lie in court.
When you finish giving evidence, you will be released from your oath, and asked to stand down and leave the witness box. You may then watch the trial from the public gallery.