Witness Tips - On The Witness Stand

If you are asked to give information about a crime, you are a witness when you testify in court.  The information you provide as a witness is called testimony.  Your role is an important one, so here are some tips for being a good witness.

  • Use the washroom before you have to testify. tooltipIf you are on the stand and need to use the washroom, just tell the judge you need a break.
  • Turn off your cell phone.

Giving Your Testimony

  • Always tell the truth when testifying.
  • Be a polite witness.
  • The judge may give an order asking witnesses to wait outside the courtroom until it is their turn to testify. tooltipOne of the reasons judges make this order, is to make sure that the witnesses will not be influenced by what other witnesses have said.
  • When it is your turn to give evidence, you will be called into the courtroom.  You should go to the front of the courtroom.
  • In some courtrooms, lawyers and other court officials bow to the judge when they enter or leave the courtroom. tooltip This is a show of respect. Witnesses are not required to bow to the judge.
  • The court clerk will ask you to swear an 'oath' promising to tell the truth.  You can swear an oath by placing a hand on a religious book.  You can also choose to make an 'affirmation' to tell the truth rather than taking an oath. tooltipAn affirmation has the same responsibility as taking an oath but does not use a religious book.
  • Indigenous witnesses can swear on an eagle feather. tooltipThe eagle feather represents truth, power and freedom. Those who hold it must also speak the truth with honour and respect.
  • The Crown prosecutor will be the first to ask you questions.
  • The lawyer for the accused, the defence lawyer, will then ask you questions.
  • Speak in a clear, strong voice. tooltipYou may see a microphone in front of you, but in most cases, the microphone is only for recording what you say.
  • Do your best to answer the questions, even if it means talking about things that you normally keep private. tooltipA judge listens to people tell their information every day and has probably heard a similar situation to yours before.
  • When you have completed your testimony, you will be asked to leave the witness stand. tooltip The judge and/or the lawyers may give you instructions to follow.

About Knowing and Remembering

  • Wait until the whole question is asked before answering. tooltipIf you don't understand a question, ask to have it explained to you.
  • If you do not know the answer, it is okay to say; 'I don't know' or 'I don't remember.'
  • Answer only the question that is being asked.  Do not give your opinion or say what other people told you happened.
  • If the Crown prosecutor or the defence lawyer 'objects' to a question that is being asked, wait until the judge decides if you should answer.
  • Taking some deep breaths can help you relax on the stand.  Some witnesses find it helpful to look at a supportive person in the courtroom.

Giving Virtual Testimony

In some situations, witnesses may provide testimony by teleconference or videoconference.  You are required to attend the virtual hearing on time and treat this as a formal court appearance.  Here are some tips to help you prepare to join the hearing:

  • Be ready to join the hearing 15 minutes before your scheduled time. tooltipThis way you will feel more confident and you can identify yourself to the individuals on the line.
  • Familiarize yourself with the software you will be using.
  • Make sure that your devices are charged and working.
  • Make sure you have a good internet connection. tooltipThis will help to avoid interruptions or a slow response time from your computer.
  • Consider using a headset or earbuds for better audio quality.
  • Set up your device in a quiet, comfortable space.
  • Try to avoid things that might interrupt the hearing. tooltipTurn off any other cell phone/home phone.
    Let people know you will be unavailable.
    Turn off notifications.
  • You may be required to have your camera turned on.
  • Be conscious that the background in your room may be visible to other people. tooltipEnsure your background protects your privacy.
  • Speak slowly and clearly, mute yourself when you are not speaking.

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.