Be a witness at court

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All sorts of cases can require people to give evidence as a witness to help work out the truth of the claims being made in the case.

Time off work

Your employer must give you time off work to act as a witness but they can choose whether or not to pay you for the time you're away from work.

You may be able to be paid to cover some of the costs of going to court to give evidence, like transport costs, or meals. Speak to the police officer in charge of the case or lawyer or representative of the person who’s calling you as a witness about how to claim these expenses.

What to take to court

You should take:

  • your witness summons, if you have one
  • any documents or other items you've been asked to bring, like bills or photographs.

Keep photocopies of your documents at home.  You might not get the original back.

You might also want to bring something to read or do while you're waiting, as you might not be called to give evidence right away.

Giving your evidence

Before you tell the court what happened (‘give evidence’), you have to promise to tell the truth. You can choose to make a religious promise (an oath) or a non-religious promise (an affirmation). After you have made your promise to the court, it’s a crime if you then tell a lie.

If you've recorded a video interview before the trial, you might not have to give evidence again. However, you may still need to be in the courtroom to answer any questions.

The lawyer or representative for the person who’s called you as a witness will ask you questions first (called ‘evidence in chief’), then the lawyer or representative for the other side will ask their questions (called ‘cross-examination’). Then the first lawyer or representative can question you again (this is called ‘re-examination’).

The judge is there to stop you being confused by the lawyers.  You can ask for more time to answer a question or for a question to be repeated if you need it.

If you think a question is inappropriate or irrelevant, you can ask the judge if you have to answer. If the judge says you have to answer, you must do so.

Talking about the case

You can’t talk to anyone about what you've said at court until the trial is over. If the judge calls a break (such as for lunch or for the end of the day), you must not speak to anyone about the case during the break.

If it’s a jury trial, you must not speak to the jury at any time.

If someone tries to tell you to change your story

Tell the lawyer or representative for the person who’s called you as a witness, the Crown lawyer or the police immediately if someone tries to tell you or bully you to change your story. It's illegal for anyone to harass or try to influence a witness.

Support a young witness

Going to court as a witness is a big deal for anyone but especially for tamariki and taitamariki – children and young people.

A child or youth will only have to go to court as a witness if the judge or jury needs to hear from them about what happened. There will be extra support and protection for child witnesses.

Find out more about what to expect and how to get support on the:

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