Witnesses are a very important part of the legal process. If you have been asked to testify in court, it is natural to be a little nervous. By understanding the trial process, you will feel more confident and be a better witness.
Where do you go:
If you are a party to the lawsuit, meet your lawyer at the pre-arranged location on court day. Court usually starts at 10:00 a.m. so be sure to arrive in plenty of time.
If you are a non-party witness (i.e. not a direct litigant), you may be excluded from the court room until you are called to testify. Contact the office of the lawyer who wants you to be a witness for the location of the courtroom and for the approximate time when you are expected to be called to testify. Because of the nature of trials, the lawyer cannot always know for sure when you will be called.
Men should wear a suit or proper attire. Women should dress in proper business clothes. Bright colours and accessories should not be worn.
Read over any witness statement or chronology which you may have made earlier in the proceeding. If you were examined for discovery (a pre-trial examination where the opposing lawyer asks questions of you under oath), read the transcript carefully before you testify at trial.
Take all papers you have about the case to court with you. You will be expected to reply from memory so you should generally not read directly from notes. However, judges recognize that testifying is stressful and nervousness alone can cause people to forget things. It may be possible to refer to your notes to refresh your memory. This request may be granted by the judge if the notes were made at the time or shortly after the events at issue.
Be prepared for a wait at the court house. You may want to take a book or magazine to read. If you like, you can bring a friend to keep you company.
You must either swear on a religious book or, make an affirmation to tell the truth.
The judge presides over the court room not the lawyers. Direct your answers to the judge not to the lawyer asking the questions.
- You will be questioned by the lawyer who asked you to be a witness.
- You will probably also be cross-examined by counsel for the other party.
- The lawyer who asked you to be a witness may re-direct further questions to you if he or she feels that some of the answers you gave to opposing counsel need some additional clarification.
- It is also possible that, at any time, that the judge may ask you questions.
You will give evidence from a witness box in the Courtroom. Present will be the judge, a court clerk, the lawyer for the other side (if any) and the other party in the case. The public galleries may or may not be occupied. Sometimes, other lawyers are present in the Courtroom. They are not entitled to intervene or disturb the proceedings.
Witnesses are usually excluded until they are called to testify or if there is a chance that they may be called again, excluded entirely except for the time of their testimony.
- Always speak clearly when answering questions.
- Do not feel that you have to rush an answer. If you do not understand a question from a lawyer or from the Court, say so.
- If you feel you have been asked a trick-question, make sure that you answer it first by phrasing the context in which you are answering.
- If you cannot remember a date or a number exactly, give an approximation and qualify it as such.
- Always give a full answer. If you feel you need to correct something you said earlier, or if you believe that you need time to refer to a document before you answer a question, do not hesitate to inform the judge.
- If you are having health, emotional or other difficulties while testifying, bring it immediately to the attention of the judge. You will likely be given an adjournment.
- Do not be emotional. You are more credible if you are calm and give considered and reasoned answers.
- Always be courteous with opposing counsel. Remember that the judge is searching for the truth and is judging your credibility.
Other Reference Material:
Steps in a Lawsuit