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Twenty tips on testifying
for victims and witnesses
 
 
 
Always tell the truth.
Telling the truth is describing everything that happened in as much detail as you can remember. This is your role as a witness.
 
Listen carefully to the questions you are asked.
Wait until the end of the question before replying.
 
Take as much time as you need to think about the question you were asked and about your answer.
 
Respond slowly and calmly to all the questions using short clear sentences.
 
Do not be afraid to say everything you know and all the details you can remember. All the information you can provide may be important to finding out what happened.

If, in order to describe what happened, you need to use less appropriate words, such as swear words used by the defendant during the crime, you should do so.
 
Reply only to what you are asked.
Don’t try to please whoever is asking the questions by providing information about subjects with which you are not familiar.
 
Don’t reply to questions you didn’t fully understand. You can and you should ask for the question to be repeated or explained better.

You can say: "I'm sorry. I didn't understand. Can you please repeat that/explain that better?"
 
When asked questions to which you don't know how to reply, there is only one answer: "I don't know".
Remember that your role is to tell what you know about what happened. Don’t make up a reply just to answer the question. Don’t assume and don’t give your opinion.
Testify to the facts that you saw, heard, know of or learned directly. Testimonies based on rumour or hearsay are irrelevant.
 
It is possible that you will be asked the same question more than once.
Try to answer it the same way.
 
It is only natural that you can't remember all the details or that you can't recall some things accurately.

If this happens, stay calm and don’t be afraid to say "I don’t remember".

Forgetting some things that happened in the past is a natural memory process. This may be associated with the passage of time (very often, witnesses have to testify about something that happened many months or years ago) or with discomfort caused by recalling a negative life experience.
 
If anyone threatens or intimidates you or tries to attack you after you testify, report it to the police immediately.
If someone has threatened or intimidated you or tried to attack you before you testify, then, besides reporting it to the police, you should also inform the court.
 
It is natural to feel afraid, nervous and tearful. Testifying is an experience that can make anyone anxious and frightened. Talking about the crime or answering questions about the crime you witnessed (or were a victim of) is not a pleasant task, because it forces you to remember things you would like to forget and ‘erase’ from your memory. One of the reactions that can occur is crying. Don’t feel ashamed about this. Your reaction will be understood, as it has already happened to many people in the same situation.
 
If you feel tired or overly nervous, you can either request a break to go to the toilet or ask for a glass of water and a tissue.
 
Don’t be afraid of the defendant or let his/her presence inhibit you.
Avoid looking at him/her while answering the questions.
Look only at the person asking you the question. If you'd rather speak without him/her being there, you can say so to the judge. If the judge thinks this is reasonable, the defendant may be removed from the room while you are speaking.
 
The witness isn’t being accused of anything: the witness hasn’t committed any crime. The only person being accused is the defendant.
The witness is there to help the authorities gather important information so that they can make the right decisions.
 

It is natural that during the trial some of what is said or some of the questions you are asked may cause you discomfort, if you feel that what you went through is being challenged.
Keep in mind that this may be part of the defendant's defence strategy, so try to stay calm and not let it affect you.
 
Remember that you are not responsible for the court's decision about the defendant.
Carry out your role: tell what you know about what happened.
The decision as to whether or not to convict the person accused of committing the crime always lies with the judge.
 

After you testify, it is possible that the trial will proceed and that other witnesses will be questioned by the judge.
You can either stay and watch the rest of the trial or leave the court. You may not talk to other witnesses who haven't testified yet about what you know or what happened when you testified.

 
After all the witnesses have testified, the judge announces the day and time for reading the judgment. You don't have to attend, but you may if you wish.
 
If the defendant is acquitted, it doesn’t mean that the judge didn’t believe your testimony.
Being acquitted is not the same as being innocent. It means that the evidence gathered and given at the trial was not sufficient (and valid) for the judge to make a sound decision about the defendant’s guilt.