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How witnesses give evidence
There are different steps to giving evidence in a court case. The main steps are:
The prosecutor and the defence lawyer will stand up behind the 'bar table' when asking you questions. They must ask the Judge or Magistrate for permission to come up to the witness box.
- Evidence-in-chief when you answer questions asked by the prosecutor
- Cross-examination when you answer questions asked by the defence and (sometimes)
- Re-examination when you answer more questions asked by the prosecutor
There are other rules about how everyone behaves in court. The Judge or Magistrate is the person in charge of the court.
If you are a child or a victim of a sexual assault you may be able to give your evidence in a separate room without going into the courtroom. This is called the Remote Witness Room or Closed Circuit Television Room (CCTV).
Evidence-in-chief is the first part of your evidence. The prosecutor will ask you questions about what happened and it's your job to answer the questions truthfully. This is how you tell the court about what happened to you.
If your statement was recorded by audio or video tape by police or a Joint Investigation Response Team, it can be played in court as all or part of your evidence in chief. If you are using CCTV to give evidence, you will be able to hear and watch the recording from the CCTV or Remote Witness room and the court will not see you.
The prosecutor is not allowed to help you with your answers in any way. If they need more information or more detail, they will ask you more questions. Just wait for each question and answer it as best you can.
The questions asked in evidence-in-chief are based on what you told the police in your statement. You are allowed to read your statement before you go to court but you won't usually be allowed to look at it when you give evidence. If you gave your statement by way of an audio or video recording, you will have the chance to hear or look at this before court.
Sometimes the defence lawyer will say "objection" about the way the Prosecutor is asking you questions. The magistrate or judge will decide if you can be asked the question and how it should be asked. Don't take objections personally, just wait and you will be told when to continue.
Cross-examination is when the lawyer for the accused (the defence lawyer) asks you questions. This is the part of giving evidence that people usually worry about most.
The accused tells the defence lawyer what they say happened and part of the defence lawyer's job is to ask you questions about that. Sometimes the defence may ask you questions you don't expect and may bring up things about your personal life. If the defence lawyer asks you a question that is not allowed, the prosecutor can object to it. If this happens, you might not have to answer the question but it is up to the Judge or Magistrate to decide. If you do have to answer the question, you need to answer it truthfully.
Sometimes the defence may ask questions like "I put it to you…" or "I suggest to you…". These may not sound like questions but they are. If you don't understand what the defence is asking you, ask them to say the question again in an easier way. If you do not agree with what you are being asked it is okay to say you don't agree.
Questions asked by the defence lawyer might make you upset or angry. The defence lawyer might suggest that you are mistaken, confused or not telling the truth, or that you are exaggerating or deliberately changing what happened. Stay calm and try to answer the questions as best you can even if you feel hurt or offended.
If you think a question is offensive or you are not sure if you should answer, you can ask the Judge or Magistrate if you have to answer it.
After the defence lawyer has finished asking you questions, the Prosecutor may want more information about what you said in cross-examination. They can ask you more questions. This is called re-examination.