The procedure for being a witness

Information

Taking the stand

There are some situations where you may be able to give evidence by video-link instead of coming into the court.

At the trial, you may be one of a number of witnesses who are going to give evidence. Normally you will wait in the court and you may watch the trial until it is your turn to give evidence. Sometimes you may be asked to leave the court and if that happens, you will be told when to return.

When it is your turn, the solicitor or barrister for the party who called you as a witness will stand up and will name you as the next witness. You will walk up to the front of the court and go into the witness box.

In civil proceedings, the court may give anonymity to a witness where the witness has a medical condition and being identified as having that condition would cause undue stress to the witness.

You will stand in the witness box and the court registrar will hand you a Bible, which you must hold. The registrar will then ask you to repeat the following oath after him/her, "I swear by Almighty God that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth".

If you wish to make the affirmation (suitable for those who are not Christians), then you must tell the registrar. The words of the affirmation are "I, do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence that I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth".

When you have repeated your oath or affirmation, you will sit down.

Examination in chief

The solicitor or barrister for the party who has called you as a witness will then ask you a series of questions to allow you to give your evidence. This is called the "examination in chief".

The questions that you are asked at this stage are designed to guide you through your evidence so that you can give your account of what happened in your own words. You should carefully consider each question and answer it truthfully.

During the examination in chief, you cannot be asked "leading questions". These are questions that suggest the answer. For example, you cannot be asked "Did you see Mr. X cross the road?" but you may be asked "What did you see Mr. X do?"

Cross-examination

After the examination in chief, the solicitor or barrister for the other side will stand up and will ask you a series of questions. This is called the "cross-examination". The purpose of the cross-examination is to allow the other side to attempt to undermine or reduce the significance of your evidence.

You may be asked questions designed to make you seem unreliable, mistaken, confused or untruthful as a witness. Contradictions in your evidence may be pointed out to you and you may be asked to explain those contradictions. During the cross-examination, you may be asked leading questions.

Re-examination

When the cross-examination is over, the solicitor or barrister for the party who called you as a witness may choose to conduct a "re-examination". This means that you will be asked more questions designed to clarify any issues that arose during the cross-examination. During the re-examination, you cannot be asked leading questions.

Leaving the stand

At any time while you are in the witness box, the judge may ask you questions or ask you to clarify certain matters.

When the cross-examination and/or re-examination is over, you will be asked to leave the stand. Normally that is the end of your involvement in the case. However, sometimes you may be asked to come back to court to give more evidence.

Further information

For more detailed information you should seek legal advice.

Page edited: 24 December 2013