How you are called as a witness

Information

You may be called as a witness in a criminal case or a civil case. The general rule is that everyone is competent and can be compelled to be a witness.

Before the trial of the case, you may be contacted by legal representatives for the party who wishes to call you as a witness.

They may wish to obtain a written statement from you about what happened and/or they may wish to meet with you to discuss it.

The Summons or Subpoena

If a party in a court case wishes to call you as a witness, you will receive a "witness summons" or a "subpoena". This is a simple court form that sets out:

  • The name of the case
  • The date and time that the case will be heard
  • The place (the court) where you must attend

Rules

If you have received a summons or subpoena, you must attend on the date in question at the court. If you fail to do so, you can be imprisoned for "contempt of court". It is not a good defence for you to say that you are intimidated by one of the parties in the case or afraid to give evidence.

If you have to take time off work in order to attend court, you are not entitled to be paid while away from work. You may be entitled to witness expenses (see below).

If your employer wants you to take the time off work as annual leave, the normal conditions for taking annual leave apply. Your employer must take into account your family responsibilities, opportunities for rest and recreation that are available to you and to consult with you at least one month before the leave is to be taken.

If you receive a "subpoena duces tecum", it will state that you must not only attend in court but you must also bring along specified documents.

How to apply

Witness expenses

As a court witness, you may be entitled to witness expenses.

If you are a witness for the prosecution in a criminal trial, you should tell the investigating Garda who is dealing with the case what your expenses are. For example, you may miss out on wages for the days that you are in court and you may incur travel expenses to get to court.

The Garda will then make an application to the judge that witness expenses should be paid and if the judge makes an order, you will be given a cheque for your expenses.

If you are a witness for the defence in a criminal trial, you may also be entitled to recover some of your witness expenses. You should tell the solicitor who has summonsed you to come to court what your expenses are.

If you are a witness in a civil trial, you will normally be entitled to recover any out-of-pocket expenses you have incurred as a result of having to give evidence. You should speak to the solicitor who has summonsed you to court and he or she will apply for expenses on your behalf. Normally all the witness expenses are paid by the party who has lost the civil case as the losing party will usually be ordered to pay the costs of both sides.

Expert witnesses such as doctors and psychiatrists are entitled to be paid a set fee for giving evidence, whether it is a criminal or a civil trial. They are also paid for the reports that they write for the purposes of the case.

Further information

For more detailed information you should seek legal advice.

Page edited: 18 August 2014