In some cases if a partner is charged with a criminal offence due to violence or abuse, the other partner may be called as a witness to testify about the violent incident or abuse. Many people worry about going to court and to testify. The following is information that you can use to become more aware of what will happen in court.
- General Information
- Preparing for the trial
- What to remember when testifying
- Some tips if you are a witness
- If you do not show up to testify
- If your husband/partner does not show up to testify
- How much time is involved?
- If your partner has been charged, the Crown Prosecutor’s job is to prove he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
- If you are a witness, you will receive a subpoena, which is a notice to attend court, or other court notice. This will tell you the date and time you must attend.
- If there is a serious reason why you cannot attend court, you must speak to the Crown Prosecutor immediately.
- Your partner may choose to get a lawyer or he may choose to represent himself.
- You cannot drop the charges laid. You have no control over the charges. If your partner is threatening you or family members are pressuring you, let the Crown Prosecutor know immediately.
- If your partner harasses you about dropping the charges, tell him you have no power to drop charges. Your partner may still harass you so that you will not testify. This behaviour is a crime and should be reported immediately to the police.
Preparing for the trial
- Get a copy of your statement to the police and read it over.
- If you made any notes at the time of the assault, ask the Crown Prosecutor if you can bring them with you to court.
- Go over the events in your mind and try to place them in order. Make sure you remember the date, time, and place of the assault.
- You can arrange a meeting with the Crown Prosecutor before the trial.
- Let the Crown Prosecutor know ahead of time if you need a translator or an interpreter.
- Take with you the subpoena and any other important document to the meeting with the Crown Prosecutor.
What to remember when testifying
- If you do not know the answer to a question, do not guess. Say “I do not know” or “I don’t remember”.
- If you do not understand a question, ask for it to be rephrased. Speak clearly and loudly.
- You must always respond verbally. The court records only verbal responses. When saying yes or no, you must use those words rather than nod or shake your head.
- Do not discuss your testimony with others. You may discuss your case with the Crown Prosecutor and police, but no one else.
- If you make a mistake, let the Crown Prosecutor know.
- It is recommended that you dress neatly when testifying.
- You will be required to take an oath. If for religious reasons you cannot, let the Crown Prosecutor know in advance.
- You have a right to review your police statement before you testify. If you do not have a copy, you can get one from the Crown Prosecutor.
- It is okay for you to ask for something you need: tissues, a glass of water, use of the washrooms.
- It is the defence lawyer’s job to ask many questions to check the accuracy of your statement. This is called cross-examination. The defence lawyer might suggest something that you, the witness, partially agree or disagree with. You can explain to the judge which part(s) you agree and disagree with. Try not to get too distressed if it sounds like you are not being believed.
Some things to consider if you are a witness
- Arrive 15 minutes early and let the Crown Prosecutor know that you have arrived.
- Once the case begins, all the witnesses will be instructed to leave the courtroom. This is called an order of exclusion.
- If you are asked to leave the courtroom, make sure that you stay just outside the courtroom so that you are easy to find when it is your turn to testify.
- The Crown Prosecutor will call witnesses first, then the defence will call its witnesses.
- You may be the first one called to testify.
- The accused may plead guilty before or during the proceedings.
- The court may be delayed for a number of reasons. You may ask the Crown why.
If you do not show up to testify
- If you stay away from the trial on purpose, you could be charged with a criminal offence.
- If you do not obey the court document (subpoena), you can be found in contempt of court.
- The judge could issue a warrant for your arrest.
- If you do not want to testify, speak with the Crown Prosecutor ahead of time and before you are subpoenaed.
If your partner does not show up in court
- A warrant could be issued for his arrest.
- His lawyer may provide a reasonable excuse for his absence; then the judge can adjourn the court.
How much time is involved?
- The trial may take several hours.
- More serious and complicated trials can take several days.