You might have seen something that you did not intend to see or you have decided that you want to be of help to someone. Either way, being a court witness is essential for many cases. It helps the court reach a fair verdict. Without witnesses, many cases may struggle to reach a fair verdict, or not reach one at all.
What do you need to do as a witness?
Firstly, you have to appear in court in person. These are some general guidelines if you’re a witness:
- You should arrive at court half an hour before the proceedings start.
- Inform the public prosecutor immediately that you’re there.
- Request the public prosecutor to read through your statement.
- Inform the prosecutor if anything important is not contained in your statement.
- Wait patiently outside.
- Stay until you are excused by the prosecutor or the magistrate.
Remember that as a witness you are not allowed to attend the court case in which you will be testifying. You should also not discuss the case with any other witness.
What happens in the court?
Before you testify you will be required to take an oath, which means affirming that your testimony will be truthful. After that, the following should be kept in mind when in court:
- You will be questioned by the public prosecutor.
- You may only address the court.
- The correct form of address in a lower court is: “Your Worship” and “My Lord” in higher courts.
- You may only testify on aspects within your knowledge and will be guided by the prosecutor.
- Evidence related to you by someone else is inadmissible.
- You may also be questioned by the accused or his legal representative.
- You must listen carefully and address your answers to the court.
- Do not argue with the court, the lawyer or the prosecutor.
- The court may also want to question you.
The accused in the court case may plead guilty, which means the court could pronounce a judgment without hearing any evidence from witnesses. If so, the public prosecutor will inform you that you don’t have to testify.
If you’re a witness it’s not necessary to be scared about something happening to you. You can get protection from any intimidation that you may experience. The presiding officer in the court will also make sure that you’re not intimidated. You’re there to help and will be treated as such.
- Justice.gov.za. The Department of Justice and Constitutional Development. Criminal Law, Witnesses. [online] Available at: http://www.justice.gov.za/vg/witness.html/ [Accessed 08/06/2016].