Testifying in court

As the victim or witness of a crime, you may be required to testify in court to shed more light on the case the court is hearing.

You can, at any time, request assistance from an Crime Victims Assistance Centre (CAVAC), which can provide support before, during and after your testimony.

Obligation to testify

If you are the victim of or a witness to a crime, you will not necessarily have to testify in court.

However, if the court wants to hear your testimony, it will send you a summons by registered mail (sometimes referred to as a subpoena).

The summons requires you to go to the courthouse concerned to testify at a specific date and time.

If you are summoned to appear in court but fail to do so, an arrest warrant may be issued. You may then be found guilty of contempt of court, which would lead to a fine or prison sentence.

If you are unable to testify at the required time

If, for a serious reason, you are unable to attend court at the required time, you must contact the party that summoned you immediately.

Your rights

Various measures are in place to ensure that your rights are protected at all times, and to minimize the inconvenience of testifying.

The measures are specified in the Statement of Principle regarding Witnesses.

Your identity

You can ask the judge to protect your identity in certain circumstances.

The judge can make an order to prevent the disclosure of any information that could reveal your identity.

You can also ask the judge to make an order to prohibit the publication or dissemination of any information allowing you to be identified. If you are a victim aged under 18, or if you are testifying in a trial for certain sexual offences, the judge is required to grant your application once you have made it.

Your address

In general, when you take the stand as a witness, you must state your name and address to the clerk.

If you believe that stating your address may place you in danger, the court may exempt you from doing so or make an appropriate order. 

This will ensure that your address remains confidential.

Your employment

You are entitled to protection with respect to your employment. Your employer must allow you to take time off work to testify and cannot penalize you for your absence.

If your employer fails to respect your rights, you can file a complaint with the Administrative Labour Tribunal.

You can also institute legal proceedings.

Self-incrimination

 No facts you admit to during your testimony can be held against you in another case, except it:

  • you lie to the court;
  • you give contradictory evidence.

Intimidation

You are protected against intimidation.

You should contact the police or the criminal and penal prosecuting attorney  responsible for the case if any person

  • threatens you;
  • attempts to influence your testimony;
  • attempts to dissuade you from testifying.

Charges could be laid against the person concerned.

Interpreter services

 You can request interpreter services if

  • you are deaf or hearing-impaired;
  • you are not fluent in the language used at the hearing.

Support

You may be accompanied at the hearing by a close friend of relative if you feel this is necessary.

If you are under the age of 18 or have a physical or mental deficiency, you can ask the judge to allow a trusted person to remain at your side during your testimony.

You can also request assistance from the Crime Victims Assistance Centre (CAVAC) in your region.

Before testifying

Before the day of the hearing, you must

  • try to remember all the facts about the event;

  • read through the statement you made to the police (if any). Contact the investigating officer responsible for the case if you need a copy of your statement;

  • re-read any notes you made after the event.

On the day of the hearing, you must

  • go to the place indicated in the summons, at the specified time;

  • inform the investigating officer that you have arrived, or the lawyer for the accused if this is the person who summoned you to testify;

  • go to the courtroom when you are called.

In some cases, the judge may authorize you to leave the courthouse even though you have not testified.

This may occur, for example, if

  • the accused pleads guilty;
  • the accused waives 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 is adjourned.

If this occurs, the judge may

  • notify you of the date when you must return to court;
  • inform you that you will receive a new summons.

While testifying

In the courtroom, you must obey the judge's instructions.

You must go to the witness stand.

Next, you must answer questions from the criminal and penal prosecuting attorney, and then from the lawyer for the accused (or from the accused, if self-representing). The accused will be present in the courtroom to hear your testimony.

You must tell the truth.

Your role is to report the facts as you experienced them. You must try to remember everything relevant, such as

  • conversations;
  • dates;
  • times;
  • distances;
  • places;
  • names;
  • etc.

It is important to note that your testimony is given in public.

Members of the public, as well as journalists, will be able to hear it.

Your testimony ends when the judge releases you.

After testifying

You may be compensated for the expenses you incur while testifying, for example for lost time, travel and accommodation.

Information on the relevant Indemnities and allowances is available.

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