Gouvernement du Québec - Justice

Witness

Your role in Court - Criminal Division - Youth Division.Your role in Criminal Court
Criminal Division

You may be someone who has witnessed or been a victim of a criminal act, or has information that may assist the court in trying a criminal case. As a witness, you are called on to play an essential role in the administration of justice. The Statement of Principle regarding Witnesses signed by the Ministère de la Justice, the judiciary and the Barreau du Québec in June 1998 reaffirms the key role of witnesses in the judicial process and contains formal commitments by the signatories to simplify the process for court witnesses.

If you have any misgivings about having to testify, read this brochure carefully. It has been prepared to reassure prospective witnesses by explaining in simple terms their exact role and responsibilities.

Subpœna
Are you required to testify?
How can you prepare to testify?
What should you do when you arrive at court?
What should you expect once inside the courtroom?
Ban on publishing the names of the victim or witnesses
Can you refuse to testify or to answer questions?
What should you do if someone tries to intimidate or influence you?
On the witness stand
How much time will you have to spend in court?
Whitness compensation
Amount of allowances
Statement of Principle regarding Witnesses
For more information


Subpœna

A subpœna, also referred to as a summons, is a court order for a witness to appear and testify in a criminal case on the date and at the time and place specified in the subpœna.

Are you obliged to testify?

You must comply with a subpœna. If you refuse to appear in court, a warrant may be issued for your arrest and you may be brought before a judge. Your employer must allow you to take time off from work to fulfil your duty. It is against the law for an employer to penalize an employee for attendance in court on being subpœnaed as a witness.

If, for a serious reason, you cannot appear in court at the appointed time, you must immediately contact the court service indicated on the back of the subpœna, the criminal and penal prosecuting attorney, or the police investigator in charge of the case.

How can you prepare to testify?

When preparing to testify, try to remember the details of the incident you witnessed such as conversations, persons present, times, distances and other relevant information Make sure you are familiar with any document about which you will be testifying.

If you took notes at the time of the incident, make sure the police investigators have been made aware of them so that they are included in your testimony. And if you signed a statement during the course of the police investigation, ask the police investigator to let you review it before you testify.

Should you feel the need to do so, ask a close relative or acquaintance to accompany you to court, or request assistance from the crime victims assistance centre CAVAC in your area.

What should you do when you arrive at court?

On the day you are to testify, arrive at court early and bring your subpœna. On arriving, it is suggested you check the courtroom number with the reception desk or court clerk since sometimes cases are re-assigned to a different courtroom.

At the same time, inquire about the procedure for receiving the allowances and travelling expenses to which you are entitled for attendance as a witness.

Next, find out where you can inform the police investigator that you have arrived and ask him or her any questions you may have. If you have been called to testify by the defence, see the defence counsel. In any event, make sure you are in the courtroom at the scheduled time.

What should you expect once inside the courtroom?

Generally, several cases will be scheduled to be heard in the same courtroom on a given day, and all the witnesses in those cases are subpœnaed for the same time. It is therefore all but impossible to draw up a precise schedule for the day so be prepared to wait before you are called to give evidence.

Before the start of the proceeding in which you are to testify, you will probably be asked to leave the courtroom and wait outside to be called. This is a normal procedure, intended simply to prevent you from being influenced by the testimony of preceding witnesses. After giving testimony, you may remain in the courtroom unless the judge directs otherwise.

Court proceedings are usually open to the public. However, in the interests of the proper administration of justice or to maintain order, the judge may on his or her own initiative or at the request of one of the lawyers order that the proceeding be conducted in private. If this happens, not only is the public not allowed inside the courtroom, there is also a ban preventing anyone from publishing or disclosing information about what occurs or is said during the proceedings.

Ban on publishing the names of the victim or witnesses

If the victim or a witness is under 18 years of age, the judge when requested is required to prohibit the media from disclosing the person's name or any other information that could serve to identify the victim or witness. The judge will decide on an individual basis if there are grounds for a publication ban on the names of other witnesses.

Can you refuse to testify or to answer questions?

You cannot refuse to testify or answer questions. If you do refuse, you may be held in contempt of court and fined, sentenced to prison, or both.

It's important to remember, however, that your testimony cannot be used to incriminate you in other proceedings, except if you commit perjury or give contradictory testimony.

What should you do if someone tries to intimidate or influence you?

If someone tries to intimidate you or influence your testimony, report it to the police or the criminal and penal prosecuting attorney immediately. Charges can be brought against anyone who attempts by threat or any other means to influence a witness or dissuade a witness from testifying.

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On the witness stand

If you do not understand or speak the language of the proceedings, or have a hearing impairment, you are entitled to the assistance of an interpreter.

On the witness stand, you must promise to tell the truth, either by swearing on the Bible or making a solemn affirmation. The court clerk will then ask you to state your name and address. If you fear reprisals or threats, you can ask the judge to allow you to give your address in writing and it will then be kept confidential.

After you have been sworn in, the criminal and penal prosecuting attorney and the defence counsel will proceed to question you. Do not worry if you feel nervous, this is common and perfectly normal. Take your time, listen to the questions carefully, and make sure you understand them before answering. When in doubt, ask to have the question repeated or rephrased.

Give simple answers to the questions without adding unnecessary details. Always address your answers to the judge. Speak clearly and audibly so that your testimony can be recorded accurately. Be affirmative. If you don’t know the answer, say so. Because the court is interested only in the facts, refrain from giving opinions or interpretations unless you are asked to do so.

If a lawyer objects to a question that has been asked, do not start to answer until the judge asks you to. Should you realize that you have given an incorrect answer, tell the judge immediately so that you can correct your error.

Do not discuss your testimony with other witnesses unless authorized to do so by the judge.

The lawyer for the party for whom you have been called to testify will question you first. The lawyer for the opposing party may then ask you questions in order to clarify your testimony or check its accuracy. This step is called cross-examination and it serves as a way of ensuring that everything has been said and that the truth has been determined.

Remain courteous in all circumstances. Remember that the judge is there to make sure that you are treated with respect.

How much time will you have to spend in court?

As mentioned earlier, it is practically impossible to predict how long proceedings will take. You must remain at court until you have testified or until the judge authorizes you to leave, which usually will be after you have testified.

You may also be authorized to leave without testifying. This may happen if the accused pleads guilty or waives a preliminary inquiry or the facts about which you were going to testify are not contested. It is also possible the case may be postponed and if so, the judge will tell you when you must come back to court or inform you that will be receiving a new subpœna.

Witness compensation

Whether you testify or not, before leaving the court you must go to the cash counter (caisse) or the witness compensation service to have the amount of witness allowances calculated. In addition to compensation for attendance in court, the allowance covers travelling, meal and stayover expenses.

Present your subpœna and vouchers for expenses such as hotel and public transportation receipts or the vehicle registration if you used your car.

If you were called as a witness by the prosecution, your expenses will be reimbursed by the compensation service at the courthouse. If you were called by the defence, your expense claim should be submitted to the defence lawyer.

Indemnities and allowances

Indemnity for loss of time

The indemnity payable to an ordinary witness for loss of time is set at $90 per day of absence from his or her home, or $45 for up to five hours’ absence. For expert witnesses, the amounts are $180 and $90 respectively. The indemnity may not be paid to an ordinary witness in certain circumstances.

Transportation

Witnesses may be entitled to the reimbursement of their travel expenses on public transportation or, if they travel by car, to $0.43 per kilometre plus the cost of parking. Receipts may be required.

Meals

On presentation of a receipt, witnesses may be entitled to the reimbursement of the cost of their meals as follows: $10.40 for breakfast, $14.30 for lunch and $21.55 for dinner, including taxes and tips.

Accommodation

An allowance of between $79 and $138 per night may be granted to witnesses who present a receipt from a hotel or similar establishment.

Witnesses who live at a distance from the place where they must testify, and who must appear several days in a case, are free to travel or not. However, the indemnities and allowances paid will always be calculated as if they had chosen the least costly option.

Statement of Principle regarding Witnesses

In 1998, the Ministère de la Justice, the judiciary and the Barreau du Québec adopted the Statement of Principle regarding Witnesses which contains measures to protect the rights of witnesses and make the process of testifying easier.

For more information

Preparing to testify in Youth Court:
     • Witnesses: Your role in Youth Court
The various stages in the judicial process for minors:
     • Understanding the youth criminal justice system
Justice Process
     • Adult Criminal Justice Process
Crime victims assistance centres (CAVACs):
     • CAVAC website Clicking on this icon will take you to another website.
Key information on the street gang problem
     • Website Choisis ton gang Clicking on this icon will take you to another website.
The statement of principle regarding witnesses:
     • Statement of principle
The addresses and telephone numbers of Québec courthouses:
     • Courthouses
Which judicial district a municipality is located in:
     • Search for a judicial district

The content of this document is strictly informative and has no legal value.

If you find some of the information difficult to understand, do not hesitate to contact us. Please note, however, that we cannot interpret the information to apply it to a specific situation.

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Latest update: October 20, 2014



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