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Witnesses

Witnesses play a critical role in the Western Australian justice system.

In criminal trials, the evidence of witnesses is essential in helping to determine whether a person charged with an offence is guilty or not guilty. In civil trials involving disputes between individuals or corporations, the evidence of witnesses is important in establishing the facts of the matter.

Criminal trials of people charged with the more serious offences are heard in the Supreme or District courts before a judge and jury. An accused, however, may elect to have their trial before a judge alone without a jury. The trials of people charged with lesser offences are heard before a magistrate sitting alone in the Magistrates Court.

If the accused person is under the age of 18 years at the time of the alleged offence, the matter will be heard in the Children's Court.

Civil matters, depending on the nature of the dispute or amount of money involved, are heard and determined before a judge in the Supreme and District courts or a magistrate in the civil jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court. A party is only entitled to have their matter heard before a jury in a limited number of circumstances.

Preparing for court

Remember to take any relevant documents about the case with you to court. If you think you will need an interpreter, please contact the court well before the day of the proceedings.

As you may have to wait a long time before you give your evidence, you may like to take something to read and something to eat or drink. You may ask a friend to come to court with you.

If you need legal advice you should consult a solicitor or Legal Aid as court staff are unable to provide legal advice.

If you are a victim of crime, you can contact the Victim Support Service for advice.

Arrive on time and make your arrival known to a court officer.

At court

You may be allowed to sit in the public gallery of the court and listen to other cases while you are waiting. However, you will probably be asked to leave the court when the case in which you are involved is called.

Witness in court

When you enter or leave the court, you should bow towards the judge or magistrate.

When called to give your evidence, the orderly will guide you to the witness box. Remain standing until you take the oath or affirmation (this is a promise to tell the truth). You can then sit down and the prosecution and defence lawyers will ask you questions.

When all the questioning has been completed, the judge or magistrate will ask you to stand down from the witness box and you can leave the court. You may like to sit in the public gallery at the back of the court and listen to the rest of the case.

Sensitive or vulnerable witnesses

Witnesses who may be frightened to face the accused in the court may give their evidence from behind a screen in the courtroom.

In some courts, closed-circuit television systems allow such witnesses to give their evidence from a separate room.

If you do not want to face the accused in court, contact the office listed on your witness summons.

When giving evidence remember to:

  • stay relaxed and calm
  • advise the judge or magistrate if you need a break
  • listen carefully
  • if you don't understand or can't hear something, ask for it to be repeated or explained
  • speak clearly and slowly
  • be careful not to leave anything out when giving your answers and
  • if you need advice, ask the judge or magistrate.

Expenses

If you are called as a witness in a criminal trial, you may be able to claim expenses associated with your attendance in court. Please contact the court office counter for information.

Further assistance

For further assistance and information about court procedures, contact your nearest court. Please note court staff are unable to provide legal advice.


Last updated: 9-Jun-2017

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