In civil trials, witnesses may be required by the applicant (the side bringing the action to court) or the respondent (the person defending the action).
The court will issue a Summons which requires a witness to attend court. If a summons to attend court at a given date and time is disobeyed (ie the witness does not attend court), the court may issue a warrant to bring that person to court. The summons may include a list of documents that you need to take with you to court.
When you arrive at court, check the case list to find out which courtroom the case is in. When you have located the nominated courtroom, tell the Sheriff’s Officer in that courtroom who you are and why you are there. Then take a seat and wait until you are called to give your evidence. Note that the process for a victim or vulnerable witness to give their evidence may be different, as the aim is to protect them from the defendant.
When it is time for you to give your evidence, you will be asked to stand in the witness box. First, you will be sworn in. This means you must take an oath, or make an affirmation, to tell the truth. The most common form of oath will require you to hold the Bible, Koran or appropriate item while a court officer asks you,
“Do you swear that you will tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help you (God/Allah etc)?”
to which you reply,
Or you can choose instead to make an affirmation, in which case you will be asked to say;
“I [your name] do truly and solemnly declare and affirm that my evidence will be completely truthful.”
Perjury (giving evidence you know to be false) is a serious criminal offence.
After you have been sworn in, you will be asked questions by the party who requested your attendance (i.e. if you are a witness for the prosecution, the prosecutor will ask you questions, or if you are a witness for the defence, the defence lawyer will ask you questions). The Judicial Officer may also ask you questions while you are in the witness box. You should try to answer all questions as clearly and simply as possible.
When you have finished giving your evidence, the other side may cross-examine you, i.e. they may ask further questions about the evidence you have just given.
The amount of time you will have to spend in court depends on the nature of the trial and where you fit in as a witness. Some trials can be over in an hour or two; others can take days, weeks or months. You may be required to attend court again on subsequent dates to give more evidence.
If you need the help of an interpreter to give evidence in court, tell the person who asked you to be a witness. They will inform the court that you need an interpreter and what language you speak. The court will then arrange for an interpreter to be present.
If you are a witness for a party in a civil trial, it is up to the party calling you to cover your expenses. If they win their case, they may be able to claim witness expenses as part of the costs of the trial. The court has a cost scale which is a guide to fair witness fees. This scale sets the amount the winning party can claim for the attendance of each witness. The amounts vary according to the size of the plaintiff’s original claim.
Close relatives (i.e. spouse, parent or child) are both competent (able) and compellable (can be made to) give evidence on behalf of any party.
Courts in South Australia are able to accommodate access and other special needs (for example, hearing or visually impaired) of witnesses who are required to appear in court.
For further information or assistance go to the Court Locations page or contact the relevant Court Registry.