Witnesses in criminal cases

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    If you witnessed a crime or know something about a crime, the police may ask you to give a written statement about what you know.

    If someone is charged with a criminal offence you may be asked to give evidence in court.

    If you’re concerned about giving evidence in court, get legal advice.

    Giving evidence in court

    If you witnessed a crime or know something about a crime, the police may ask you to give a written statement about what you know. It's a serious matter to give a false statement. If someone is charged with a criminal offence you may be asked to give evidence in court.

    If the offender pleads not guilty to the offence, you may have to give evidence at the hearing in the lower court. If the matter is serious enough and the magistrate thinks there’s enough evidence, the case may go to a higher court for a trial and you may have to give evidence again.

    When giving evidence in court you must answer all questions unless you claim privilege (eg legal professional privilege or privilege against self-incrimination).

    If you give false evidence in court, this is a criminal offence called ‘perjury’. There may be serious penalties if you are found guilty of perjury. If you’re concerned about giving evidence, get legal advice.

    You may be asked to make a statement or an affidavit before going to court. You don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.

    More information about giving evidence is available on the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (DJAG) website. The Queensland Government website also has information for victims and witnesses of crime.

    Some courts can now accept some evidence by telephone or video linkup. Contact the court or the person who wants you to give evidence to find out if this is possible.

    Most offenders plead guilty at some point in the proceedings so you may not have to give evidence in court.

    Protection for children and victims of sexual offences

    Children and victims of sexual offences are special witnesses who are protected as much as possible when giving evidence. More information about special witnesses is available on the DJAG website.

    The community organisation Protect All Children Today (PACT) may be able to help you prepare for court if you are a child or the parent of a child victim, and offer support when you give evidence. The Queensland Government has an online database of organisations providing support services for victims of crime.

    What if I refuse to give evidence in court?

    A court registrar may issue a subpoena requiring you to appear in court to give evidence, produce documents or both. Subpoenas can be issued in both civil and criminal proceedings. Unless subpoenaed, you don’t have to attend, but you should talk to the police or your victim liaison officer at the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions or get legal advice before making a decision.

    If you refuse to follow a subpoena you may be found guilty of contempt of court. A magistrate or judge may issue a warrant for your arrest for you to be brought before the court. The magistrate or judge may order you to pay costs for not following with the subpoena.

    Court reimbursements

    If you’re subpoenaed, you should be given enough money to allow you to get to the court (eg local taxi fares, or airfares if you are a long distance from the court). This is called conduct money. You're also entitled to be paid witness expenses for attending court. This is decided by the magistrate or judge and covers expenses and time lost.

    These expenses are paid by the person responsible for issuing the subpoena (in civil proceedings—the plaintiff or defendant; in criminal proceedings—the crown or defence). A magistrate or judge may order the person who issued the subpoena to pay part or all your expenses.

    Do I need legal advice?

    You may need legal advice if you:

    • have been subpoenaed to give evidence in court and you aren’t sure what you have to do
    • refused to follow a subpoena and have been, or are concerned you might be, found guilty of contempt of court
    • are concerned about giving evidence in court.

    How to get legal advice

    We may give legal advice about being ordered to go to court as a witness. You should bring your subpoena to show the lawyer when you get legal advice.

    The following organisations may also be able to provide you with legal advice.

    Community legal centres may give free legal advice and information on some criminal law matters. Most centres don’t provide legal representation. Contact them to find out if they can help.

    Queensland Law Society can refer you to a specialist private lawyer for advice and representation.

    Who else can help?

    These organisations may be able to help. They don’t give legal advice.

    Queensland Courts gives information on the:

    • Supreme Court
    • Court of Appeal
    • District Court
    • Magistrates Court
    • Coroners Court
    • Childrens Court of Queensland
    • Mental Health Court

    DJAG gives information about the court system, including a guide to Going to court which includes information for witnesses.

    Protect All Children Today (PACT) gives help and support to children who need to give evidence within the criminal justice system as victims of crime or witnesses.

    Victim Liaison Service (DJAG):

    • keeps victims up to date with the case’s progress
    • tells them when the case will go to court
    • organises for the victim to meet with the crown prosecutor to talk about the case
    • makes sure the victim understands what will happen at the trial or sentencing
    • gives information about court processes.

    Disclaimer: This content is for general purposes only and not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, please contact us or speak to a lawyer. View our full disclaimer.

    Last updated 13 April 2023