Admissibility of witness statements in a criminal trial
When you make a witness statement to the Gardaí about a crime, you are giving a written account of what you witnessed. If a suspect is brought to court, the prosecution rely on witnesses who made statements to give a personal account of what they witnessed. However, sometimes someone who made a witness statement might refuse to give evidence in court, because they have been intimidated or threatened. In some cases, what the witness says happened, when they appear in court, differs from what they said in their earlier statement to the Gardaí. The Criminal Justice Act 2006 (pdf) provides for what to do in these situations.
Section 16 of the 2006 Act allows for your statement to be admitted as evidence in a criminal trial in the following circumstances:
- If you refuse to give evidence
- If you deny making the statement
- If you give evidence in court which is inconsistent with your statement
The statement may be admitted as evidence if you confirm, (or it is proven) that you made the statement and the court is satisfied that the statement was made voluntarily and it is reliable. The court must also be satisfied that your statement was made on oath or affirmation, or contains a statutory declaration by you to the effect that your statement is true.
Will I have to explain why I am not giving evidence?
If the prosecution applies to have your statement admitted in evidence, the court will ask why you are refusing to give evidence or why you are giving evidence which is different to your statement. If you deny having made the statement, the court will need evidence from you about this denial.
Can the court refuse to admit my statement in evidence?
Yes. The court can refuse to admit your statement if it thinks that accepting your statement in evidence would be unfair to the accused, or that it should not to be admitted in the interest of justice. The court has discretion to decide whether or not to accept your statement in evidence.
You should get legal advice for more detailed information on this.