Types of witnesses

Introduction

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

Types of witnesses

Eye-witnesses

You can be called as an "eye-witness" if you saw something happen that is relevant to the case. In criminal and civil cases, you can be called by either side in the case.

When you take the stand, you must take an 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, which will let you describe what you witnessed.

Your evidence as an "eye-witness" must be about the facts, that is, what you actually saw, rather than any assumptions you have made from what you saw. You will then be cross-examined by the other side.

Expert witnesses

You can be called as an "expert witness" by either side in a case about something 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 to form a reliable opinion on the facts.

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

Character witnesses

You can be called as a "character witness" in certain situations, including:

  • To give evidence about 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 that 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 they are a person of good character.
  • To give evidence about 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.
  • To give evidence about the good or bad character of a person in a civil trial if that person's character is an important issue in the case. For example, in a defamation case if a newspaper stated that someone was a "rogue", you may be called to give evidence about an incident you saw that shows that the person in question was of dubious character.

You will take the oath or affirmation and then you will be asked a series of questions that allow you describe what you know of the person’s character. You will then be cross-examined by the other side.

Further information

You should get legal advice for more detailed information on this.

Page edited: 12 March 2019