You may be going to court as a witness either because someone asked you to testify on their behalf, or because you received a subpoena requiring you to testify at court. You should be paid witness fees, or 'travel money,' along with the subpoena. These fees must be paid by the person who subpoenaed you, and should be paid to you in cash by the person serving the subpoena on you. For information about witness fees, click here.
If you were subpoenaed to go to court, you must show up for the dates and times indicated in the subpoena. The subpoena stays in place until either:
the hearing is completely finished
the judge releases you from the subpoena
the person who subpoenaed you (or their lawyer) releases you from the subpoena (note: it is best to get the person or their lawyer to state in writing that they are releasing you from the subpoena, and for you to keep a copy of this statement. This statement should include details like your name, their name, the date and file number on the subpoena, and the date and time at which you are being released from your subpoena.)
If you are subpoenaed for a hearing or trial that is scheduled to last several days, you are expected to make yourself available for that whole time, until you have given your testimony and are released from the subpoena. You are expected to provide to the court any information being asked for in your subpoena. This may include, for example, any documents that the subpoena directs that you bring to court.
When you go to court as a witness, generally you cannot sit in the courtroom to observe or listen to what’s going on. As a witness, you will have to remain outside of the courtroom. You will go into the courtroom only when you are called to testify. This is so that your testimony will not be influenced by other things being said in the courtroom.
When you enter the courtroom, you will be asked to go to the witness chair and to take an oath or affirmation. Taking an oath means that you will swear on a holy book or make a solemn promise, called an ‘affirmation,’ that you will tell the truth in court. There can be serious consequences for lying under oath or affirmation – this is called ‘perjury.’
It is the judge’s job to determine whether the evidence you give in court is reliable, relevant, and trustworthy. If you are dishonest with even one small part of your testimony, the judge may then question whether the rest of your testimony is honest, or whether all of it is unreliable. It is your job as a witness to tell the truth, to the best of your ability, about everything you are asked.
The person on whose behalf you are testifying, or their lawyer if they have one, will ask you questions first. You are only to answer the questions you are asked to the best of your ability. When they are done asking you questions, the other person, or their lawyer if they have one, may cross-examine you. This means that they may ask you questions about:
anything you’ve said up to that point, or
information you gave in your affidavit (if you prepared one).
In rare cases, the party on whose behalf you are testifying, or their lawyer, may ask you questions a second time, once your cross-examination is finished. This process is called ‘re-direct.’ There are special rules around when this can happen – usually, re-direct will only occur if new information came out while you were being cross-examined, and the person on whose behalf you are testifying needs to ask about this new information.
When you are done giving testimony and being cross-examined, you may be asked to leave the courtroom.
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