The Legal Clinic: October

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Attending court as a witness?

If you have to go to court as a witness, you probably have questions about what happens, and how to be a witness. The central concept in our court process is that it is an ‘adversarial process’. This means that a court hearing consists of a contest between two sides, each contending for a different view of the facts. The underlying philosophy is that it is through the waging of such a contest –  that the truth will emerge. As a witness, you assist the court by telling what you know.

Summons to give evidence

A subpoena or summons to give evidence is an order of the court requiring you to attend court. If you fail to do so, the court has the power to have you arrested and brought before it.

There is a strict rule of all courts that witnesses should wait outside the court until they are called to give their evidence. It is important that witnesses do not hear the evidence given by other witnesses so that they are able to give their own account of the events without being influenced by the evidence of other witnesses.

Oath or affirmation

When it is time for you to give evidence, your name will be called outside the courtroom by a court officer. You will then be taken inside the court and up to the witness box. At this stage you will be required to take either the oath or affirmation.

When taking the oath you must stand and place your right hand on the Bible or Qur’an. The court officer will hand you a card with the wording of the oath and you will be asked to read it aloud.

What will happen?

Your story is told to the court when you answer questions. You are not expected to tell your story on your own.

The advocate acting for the party who has called you will ask you a number of questions. This is referred to as examination. Subsequently, the advocate for the other party will ask you questions. This is known as cross-examination and is designed to examine thoroughly your knowledge or recollection of events. The final stage is re-examination and the advocate acting for the party who has called you has an opportunity to ask you further questions, to clear up any misunderstandings which may have arisen during cross-examination.

Answering questions

It is important when giving evidence to listen carefully to the question asked and answer that question directly and as briefly as possible. In cross-examination you should only answer the question which is asked. There is no need to volunteer more information than the question requires. If the crossexaminer wants further information, they will ask you another question.

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