Admissibility of witness statements in a criminal trial
When the Gardai investigate a crime they will ask witnesses to describe what they saw or heard. They will write down what they say and this is called a ‘witness statement’. If the suspect is charged and brought to court, the prosecution will rely on those witnesses to give evidence to support their case.
Sometimes a person who made a witness statement might refuse to give evidence in court, or what they say when they appear in court might be different from what they said in their earlier statement. Section 16 of The Criminal Justice Act 2006 (pdf) regulates what can be done in these situations.
When can my statement be admitted as evidence?
Normally, a witness confirms what they said in their witness statement by giving evidence in court. If you do not you may be declared a ‘hostile witness.’ If you refuse to give evidence, deny making the statement or give evidence in court which is inconsistent with the statement, your witness statement may still be admitted as evidence if:
- You confirm or it is proven that you made the statement
- The court is satisfied that the statement was made voluntarily and it is reliable. Your statement must have been made on oath or affirmation, or contain a statutory declaration by you to the effect that your statement is true, or the court must be otherwise satisfied that you knew you needed to tell the truth when you were making it.
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. Your answers may influence the court’s decision about whether to admit your statement as evidence.
Can the court refuse to admit my statement as 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. They may also decided not to admit it if they believe it is unnecessary.
You should get legal advice for more detailed information on this.