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Testifying in Court

Someone called to court to testify – either as a victim or witness – is being asked to tell the court what they know about the incident, based on personal knowledge and facts. It is important that witnesses be truthful and clear about their evidence

Before they provide their evidence, they will be asked to swear an oath on the Bible or to solemnly affirm (promise) to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” When a witness is a child under 14, they will be asked to promise to tell the truth. Lying in court is a criminal offence (perjury).

Except in special circumstances, a witness or victim will be expected to give their evidence with the accused present in the courtroom. When the witness is a child, is vulnerable, is too traumatized as a result of the crime or is physically or mentally disabled, Crown counsel may request a testimonial accommodation. This may, for example, allow the witness to testify from behind a screen.

Occasionally, a lawyer (Crown or defence counsel) will object to a question asked of a witness. This means the lawyer thinks the witness should not answer the question. If this happens, the witness should wait for the judge to decide whether they answer. Sometimes, the witness will be asked to temporarily leave the courtroom while the lawyers explain to the judge why the question should or should not be asked and answered. Questioning will continue once the witness return.

Questioning is complete once the judge tells the witness they are excused. 

Helpful Tips for Testifying

The following tips will help you when you are testifying.

  • Answer questions with as much detail as you can remember. Remember: 
    • the judge does not know anything about the case except what is presented as evidence; and
    • even if you gave a written statement to police, the judge or jury will not have seen or heard it. Usually your statement is not evidence - your spoken testimony is.
  • Only answer the question asked.
  • Take as much time as you need to consider your answer.
  • Look at the judge or jury when answering.
  • Speak clearly and slowly so everyone can hear your answers. Courtroom microphones are used to record witnesses’ voices, not to make them louder.
  • Speak your answers. The microphone cannot record a nod or head shake.
  • Listen carefully to the question. Wait until the lawyer has finished speaking before you answer.
  • Ask for clarification if you do not understand the question.
  • Behave respectfully. Do not be sarcastic, lose your temper, joke or argue with the lawyers.
  • If you are asked to identify the accused, look around the entire courtroom to ensure they are the accused before you answer.
  • Ask for a break or glass of water if you need one.
  • Always tell the truth and do not exaggerate, guess or use words that are unclear. If you are unsure about something, clearly say so.

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