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Your Testimony

Witnesses who have prepared and honestly tell the court what they know have little difficulty answering questions about their evidence.

Swearing an Oath

Witnesses attend court and testify. They give a promise to the court that is binding on their conscience which may be an oath on the bible but may be a form of promise based on different religious traditions. When you are asked to enter the courtroom, go directly to the witness box. Remain standing and wait for the Court Clerk to speak to you.

You will be asked to either “swear an oath” (on a holy book) or “affirm the truth”. The court understands that in our diverse society, many people do not wish to take an oath on the Bible. Instead of taking an oath on the Bible, witnesses can “affirm”. This means that you solemnly promise to tell the truth to the court. Children under 14 are asked to “promise to tell the truth”. In all cases, you must give your commitment to the court tell the truth.

It is just as acceptable to “affirm” as it is to take an oath on the Bible. As soon as the witness enters the witness stand, you can tell the court clerk, “I wish to affirm.” There is nothing unusual about choosing to affirm; it is a common, everyday practice.

If you wish to give your oath or affirmation to tell the truth on a different religious book, you should contact Crown Counsel at least one week in advance so that court staff can make sure that the book is in the courtroom for you.

When you choose to swear an oath on the Bible you will be asked: “Do you swear that the evidence you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?”

Or, if you choose to swear on a different holy book, the clerk will say “Please repeat after me”…”I solemnly affirm that the evidence which I shall give in this case will be true; I will conceal nothing and no part of my evidence will be false”

If you choose to affirm the truth, you will be asked: “Do you solemnly affirm that the evidence you shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

You will then be asked to “Please state your full name and spell your last name for the record.” If you are asked to state your address and prefer not to do so in public, tell this to the Judge.

Examination

The lawyer who called you as a witness will question you first. The lawyer from the other side will then “cross-examine” you by asking more questions. The judge may also ask you questions to clarify your evidence.

You are usually required to answer every question that is asked unless a judge tells you not to. If you do not know the answer, it is okay to say “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember”. However, if you are sure of something, do not suggest that you are not. If there are objections to any questions by one of the lawyers, you should not answer that question until the judge makes a decision and tells you to either answer or ignore the question. You may be asked to leave the courtroom while the lawyers make arguments to the judge about the relevancy of a specific question. Once the issue is resolved, questioning will continue.

Once you have answered the lawyers’ questions, you will either be dismissed and be able to sit in the courtroom for the rest of the trial or be asked to leave the courtroom as you may have to testify again at a later date. If you are not sure what you should do after you testify, you can ask Crown counsel or the judge for direction.

Did You Know?
If you’re a witness at someone else’s trial, evidence that you give cannot be used against you, according to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This applies to all cases except those involving prosecution for perjury or contradictory evidence. If you think that the evidence you are going to give may say that you are guilty of a crime, you should talk to your own lawyer before you give evidence. Your own lawyer would be a lawyer other than the Crown attorney or the defence lawyer.

As a victim or witness, you should know that a trial may get side-tracked by requests from the lawyers, new evidence, negotiations between the lawyers, or for other reasons. This means the schedule that is set for a trial may not always be accurate. Trials can be long, depending on how complicated they are and the circumstances involved, but Crown counsel will try to narrow the time required for individual witnesses to be at court.

Things to Remember

When you are testifying, remember the following:

  • you may call the judge “Sir” or “Madam”. Their formal title is “Your Honour” or, in Supreme Court, “My Lord” or “My Lady”. You may not need to address the judge at all
  • give your evidence in detail as the judge knows nothing about the case except what is said in the courtroom by witnesses
  • look directly at the judge or jury, instead of the lawyers, when giving your answers
  • look around the entire courtroom if you are asked to identify the accused, before you answer
  • speak clearly, slowly, and keep your voice up so that the judge can hear your answers - courtroom microphones are used to record witnesses’ voices, not necessarily to make them louder
  • give your answers out loud – the microphone cannot record a nod or a head shake
  • listen carefully to the question asked; making sure the lawyer has finished talking before you answer
  • take as much time as you need to think about your response
  • answer only the question that is being asked
  • ask the judge to clarify a question if you don’t understand and ask the lawyer to repeat or rephrase any question you didn’t hear or understand
  • avoid sarcasm, jokes, arguing with the lawyers or the judge, or losing your temper
  • ask the judge for a break or for a glass of water if you need one
  • expect interruptions when testifying (for instance, objections from the other side or lunch breaks)
  • always tell the truth, without exaggeration or guessing - try not to use phrases like “I think” or “I guess”. If you are sure that something happened, say so. If you are not sure, say “I’m not sure” or “I don’t remember”. If you are asked for an opinion on something, and you don’t wish to give one, you can say “I can’t give an opinion on that”
  • remember, although you may have given the police a written or recorded statement, the judge will not have seen or heard that statement. The statement isn’t evidence the way testimony is
  • answer the question and then stop. Do not give unnecessary or irrelevant information. The judge and jury are interested only in the facts. Don’t give opinions or draw conclusions unless the lawyer or judge asks you to
  • if a certain version of events is suggested to you, do not agree with it unless you are sure it’s really accurate. Your memory is what is important. You are making a necessary and valuable contribution to our justice system by appearing as a witness in court. Justice cannot be done without witnesses providing evidence for the court to understand and act on.

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