Acting as a witness
If you are summoned to the courthouse to testify, you are required to attend or face the possibility of being charged with contempt of court. You could then be fined or imprisoned, or both. However, you do have certain rights.
Under the Statement of Principle regarding Witnesses, various measures will be taken to protect your rights and minimize the negative impacts of giving testimony.
Your role is to report facts that you have witnessed to the court by answering the questions of the prosecution and defence lawyers. You must try to remember everything possible about the situation, including:
- the date;
- the time;
- the distance;
- any other relevant element.
At the Court of Québec, you may be a witness in a criminal trial:
To prepare for giving testimony:
- you must try to remember the facts of the situation you witnessed;
- if you signed a statement as part of the police investigation, you must re-read it, after asking the investigating officer for a copy;
- if you took notes during or after the event, you should re-read them too; to include them in your testimony, you must first forward them to the investigating officer.
- go to the place specified in your summons at the date and time indicated;
- inform the investingating officer that you have arrived; if the defence lawyer summoned you to appear, introduce yourself;
- go to the courtroom where the trial is to be held.
Inability to testify at the specified time
If, for a serious reason, you are unable to go to court at the specified time, you must contact the party that summoned you as soon as possible, the investigating officer repsonsible for the case and the court office.
You have many obligations, for example:
- to comply with the summons you received;
- to follow the judge’s instructions, such as waiting outside the courroom until it is your turn to testify;
- to testify and answer questions;
- to tell the truth.
You also have rights, for example concerning:
- the protection of your employment;
Various measures are in place to protect you under the Statement of Principle regarding Witnesses.
You are entitled to the protection of your employment. Your employer must allow you time off to testify, and cannot impose a penalty for that reason.
If your employer fails to respect your rights, you can file a complaint with the Adminsitrative Labour Tribunal or launch penal proceedings.
You are entitled to a degree of protection with regard to your testimony before the court. Anything you admit to in your testimony cannot be held against you in another case, except if you lie to the court or give contradictory testimony.
You are also protected against intimidation. If anyone attempts to influence your testimony or discourage you from testifying, for example by threatening you, you can report them to the police or a prosecutor.
You can ask for an interpreter if:
- you are hearing-impaired;
- you are not fluent in the language used at the hearing.
If you wish, you may be accompanied by a close relative or friend.
You can also request assistance from the assistance centre for victims of crime (CAVAC) in your region.
Protection for your identity
If the victim or certain witnesses are under the age of 18, the judge must prohibit the media from publishing their names or any information that could identify them. As a result, your identity is generally protected if you are under the age of 18.
If you testify in a case involving a person under the age of 18, the judge may decide to protect your identity even though you are aged over 18.
Protection for your address
In general, you must state your name and address when you take the stand as a witness. If you fear for your safety by disclosing your address, the court may release you from this obligation or make an apporpriate order.
This means that your address will remain confidential.
Your duties as a witness end when you are released by the judge, generally once you have testified. Until then, you must remain at the court’s disposal.
In some cases, the judge may authorize you to leave before you have testified, for example if:
- the accused has pleaded guilty;
- the accuse has waived the right to a preliminary inquiry;
- the facts on which you are to testify are not contested.
The judge may also authorize you to leave because the case has been postponed. In this situation, the judge may:
- tell you when you are to retun to court;
- tell you that you will be sent a new summons.