Giving evidence in court can be a stressful experience.
A lot of people will feel nervous or embarrassed, but there are different supports available to help you.
Remember, you will not be able to sit in on the trial until you have given your evidence.
Taking an oath
Before giving evidence, you will have to make a promise to tell the truth.
You can do this by holding the Bible or the Qur'an and repeating a simple statement which will be read to you. This called an oath.
If you are not religious, you can make a promise to tell the truth - this is called an affirmation.
When giving evidence:
- take your time
- remain calm
- speak clearly
- if you don’t understand a question or didn't hear it properly, ask for it to be repeated - don't guess at what they might have asked
- ask the lawyers to clarify words you are not familiar with
- wait for the whole question to be asked - don't jump in with answers
- always call the judge 'Your Honour'.
If you feel upset or distressed, you are allowed to pause, take some deep breaths or have a drink of water. You can continue when you are ready.
Once you are excused from the court you are free to leave. You can also stay to see the rest of the hearing from the public seating area of the court.
More support for witnesses
The Witness Assistance Service (WAS) is part of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutons (ODPP).
A Witness Assistance Officer is usually allocated to particularly vulnerable victims including:
- children and young people
- victims with an intellectual disability
- victims of sexual offences
- domestic and family violence
- victims of serious violence, harm or assault
- families involved in a fatality.
They can talk you through the role of the DPP and give you more information about your rights and responsibilities in the court case. They will explain more about the criminal legal process and take you to court beforehand to familiarise yourself.
These services are also available to victims living in regional areas like Port Augusta, the Riverland and Mount Gambier.
Visit the ODPP website for more information about the service.
Most victims or witnesses will give evidence in the courtroom.
However, there are special provisions that may be available for vulnerable witnesses. This includes children and people with a cognitive impairment.
These special provisions may include:
- having a friend or relative in court while you give evidence, provided that this support person is not also appearing as a witness
- having a screen in the court, so you do not have to see the accused person while you give evidence
- having the court closed to the public while you give evidence
- giving your evidence on closed circuit television.
Vulnerable witnesses can ask the prosecutor to apply to the court to give evidence using these special provisions. It's up to the judge or magistrate to decide whether to grant permission to use them.
The ODPP website has more information about this process.
Going to court can be confusing and stressful for most people, particularly for young people who have been victims of or witnesses to violent crimes.
The Commissioner for Victims' Rights has a number of resources specifically designed to help children understand their role in the justice system.
The Witness Assistance Service also provides specialist support for child witnesses and aims to reduce any potential trauma and stress by:
- preparing them for the role of being a witness
- familiarising them with the court process and personnel
- supporting them and their family throughout the criminal proceedings and court
- providing debriefing and referral to community agencies.