Witness Tips - Before Court
It is a good idea to get some information about what to expect before you go to court. Often there are delays and you may also need to come to court a few times for your case. Here are some tips to help you prepare.
Keeping Track of Court Documents
- If you are required to testify at court, you will receive a subpoena. The subpoena is a document that tells you the date, the courthouse and time you must come to court. The subpoena may be delivered to your home by a police officer.
- Keep all your court documents in an envelope in a safe place.
- Keep an Info Pack. Click here to print the Info Pack. Write down the names, dates and other important info you may want to remember as you go through the court process.
- Tell the police or Victim/Witness Assistance staff if you move, go to a different school or get a new phone number.
- If you have a job, your employer must give you time off to attend court. Your employer may ask to see a copy of the subpoena.
Talking About Your Worries
- Talk about your feelings with someone you trust. You should only talk about your feelings and not about the evidence. If you talk to someone about the crime, you may be asked about the conversation on the witness stand. The person you talked to may also be subpoenaed as a witness.
- You may want to show your thoughts and feelings about going to court by drawing a picture, writing a poem or some other personal way. For sexual assault or other crimes, it is important to know that personal diaries or information given to a counsellor, can be subpoenaed to court. You should only draw or write about your feelings, not about your evidence.
- There are people to help you along the way, so don't be afraid to ask for help. Kids Help Phone is free to call from anywhere in Canada. Phone (1-800-668-6868) Text (686868)
- Think about bringing a support person with you. It is often comforting to have someone sit with you and keep you company while you are waiting. Your support person should not be someone who is also required to testify.
Your Safety Matters
- If someone is making you afraid to go to court or threatening you, it is important to tell the police officer or Crown prosecutor as soon as possible.
- Talk to the Victim/Witness Assistance staff or Crown prosecutor about the help that can be arranged for witnesses under the age of 18. Courts can protect young witnesses under 18 or witnesses with special needs from having to look at the accused person while they testify.
- Try to visit the courtroom before you testify. The Victim/Witness Assistance staff can show you inside the courtroom and also give you some information about the court rules. You can call the courthouse in your area to check if this program is available.
- If you do not understand at least one of Canada's official languages (English or French), the Crown prosecutor can arrange an interpreter to help you at meetings and when you testify. If the interpreter does not interpret accurately, tell the Crown prosecutor or the judge.
A Few General Tips
- Plan to be at court for the whole day. No one knows exactly when you will begin your testimony or how long it will take.
- Court dates can be postponed or cancelled at very short notice. This is stressful for witnesses, but is a reality within our justice system.
- The courtroom in which you are to testify may be busy with other cases. You may have to move to another courtroom or come back at another time.
- Take time in the days before court to do something you enjoy. Just going for a short walk can help you feel better.
- Plan ahead to do something calming and relaxing the night before court.
- Try to get a good night's sleep the night before your court date.
Note: Many of the Canadian courts have a Victim Witness Assistance Program. You can check our Provincial and Territorial Links for services available or call a courthouse in your area.
The Justice Canada Victim Services Directory has links to many services across Canada for victims of crime. You can click on this link to find a program in your community.