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Types of witnesses

Information

You may be called to give evidence as a witness in a criminal case or a civil case.

Eye-witnesses

You may be called as an "eye-witness" if you personally witnessed something happen that is relevant to the case. You may be called by either side in the case, whether it is a criminal case or a civil case.

When you take the stand, a Bible will be handed to you and you will repeat the oath or affirmation that you will "tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth". You will then be asked a series of questions to allow you to describe what you witnessed.

Your evidence as an "eye-witness" will be confined to the facts, i.e. what you actually saw, rather than any inferences or assumptions you have made from what you saw. You will then be cross-examined by the other side.

Expert witnesses

You may be called as an "expert witness" by either side in a case about a matter that is outside the ordinary knowledge of the judge or jury. For example, you may be called as a handwriting expert or as a doctor to give an opinion on something that is relevant to the case.

Your opinion is accepted as evidence because you are an expert on the subject and because the court does not have the knowledge or expertise itself to form a reliable opinion on the facts.

As an expert witness, you must also take the oath or affirmation. You will then be asked to explain why you are an expert in the particular area, i.e. to outline your qualifications or work experience. You will then be asked a series of questions to allow you to give your opinion about certain facts. Finally, you will be cross-examined by the other side.

Character witnesses

There are different situations where you may be called as a "character witness":

  • You may be called as a character witness to give evidence of the good character of the accused in a criminal case. You will take the oath or affirmation and you will then be asked a series of questions to allow you to describe the accused. The purpose of your evidence is to show that the accused is less likely to have committed the offence because he or she is a person of good character.
  • You may be called as a character witness to give evidence of the good character of a person who has already been convicted of a criminal offence. The purpose of your evidence is to help the judge decide which sentence to impose.
  • You may be called as a character witness to give evidence about the good or bad character of a party in a civil trial if that party's character is an important issue in the case. For example, in a defamation case where a newspaper stated that a person was a "rogue", you may be called to give evidence about an incident you witnessed that tends to show that the person in question was of dubious character.

You will make the oath or affirmation and then you will be asked a series of questions to allow you describe what you know of the party's character. You will then be cross-examined by the other side.

Further information

For more detailed information you should seek legal advice.

Page updated: 24 December 2013

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