If a person is charged with a crime and does not plead guilty there will be a trial to determine if the person is guilty of the crime. For information about the process see Trials. For information about different types of criminal offences, the required proof that the person committed the offence and possible defences see Crimes.
As a victim you may be required to testify in court about what happened. Your testimony may be a very important part of the Crown's case against the accused. Other people you know may also be asked to testify. If you are required as a witness you will probably receive a subpoena. A subpoena is an order of the court requiring a person to appear in court and give evidence. A subpoena must be served on you personally. It cannot be sent in the mail. You should read the subpoena carefully.
You must appear in court to testify at the time and date stated in the subpoena. If you do not appear as required the court may issue a warrant for your arrest. If you refuse to testify you could be held in contempt of court and face a fine, or jail, or both. If you must travel to be a witness, the Crown Prosecutor's office may cover some of your expenses, but it is important to call the number on the subpoena before you travel for more information about expenses.
You may be unsure about understanding and answering questions properly. You may be worried about not remembering important dates, times or other details. These concerns are normal. You can ask to meet with the Crown Prosecutor to discuss what you have to say as a witness. The defence lawyer may also ask to talk to you before you testify. You can meet with the defence lawyer if you want to, but you do not have to.
When you get to court you will have to wait outside of the courtroom until it is your turn to testify. In larger communities, Victim Services provides safe, private waiting rooms for children and other vulnerable witnesses. One of the court staff will call you when it is time for you to testify.
Before testifying, adult witnesses must take an oath or solemnly affirm to tell the truth. Witnesses under the age of 14 are not required to take an oath or make a solemn affirmation before testifying. Instead, they may testify once they have promised to tell the truth.
A witness aged 14 or older whose mental capacity is challenged may give evidence if they understand the nature of an oath or solemn affirmation, and if they can communicate the evidence. If they do not understand the nature of the oath or the solemn affirmation, but can communicate the evidence, they may testify once they have promised to tell the truth.
It is an offence for a person to harass a witness or try to influence a witness's testimony. If this happens to you, tell the police or Crown Prosecutor right away.
Once you have taken an oath or affirmed to tell the truth the Crown Prosecutor will ask you questions to help you tell the court what happened. The defence lawyer can then also ask you questions.
Victims have the right to request testimonial aids when appearing as a witness in proceedings relating to the offence.
Often it is difficult to testify about what happened. You may have fears and concerns about testifying in court, or be worried about giving personal information. Some witnesses may have special needs that make it hard for them to understand or hear what is going on in court or that make it hard for others to understand them. For some witnesses, speaking in open court about what happened may be very hard. There is support and help available.
There are six Victim/Witness Programs located throughout the province that provide support to children and other vulnerable witnesses. These programs work with witnesses, courts and Crown Prosecutors to make sure that the needs of a witness are known. They also provide information about the process and court tours. They can arrange to provide support and assistance to a witness when they are attending court.
If a witness is under 18 or has difficulty communicating because of a mental or physical disability, the court can allow a video recording of the witness describing the crime to be used as evidence in court. This may make it easier for the witness to testify since they will not have to repeat their description of the crime on the stand. The witness must adopt the videotaped evidence in court and is still subject to cross-examination by the defence. The judge can decide not to allow a recording to be used if it would interfere with the proper administration of justice.
If a witness is under 18 or has difficulty communicating because of a mental or physical disability the court must allow them to testify behind a screen or outside of the courtroom by closed-circuit television if it is requested.
If a witness is under 18 or has a mental or physical disability the court must allow them to have a support person if it is requested. The support person can be with the witness while they testify.
If you have trouble communicating for any reason, the court can arrange to help you testify. This help could include translation services or special equipment if you have difficulty speaking or hearing. If this is the case you should tell the prosecutor or a Victim Services worker as soon as possible.
A support person or testimony by closed-circuit television or behind a screen may be allowed for other witnesses if the judge believes they are necessary for the witness to be able to speak freely about the crime. In deciding this the judge considers things like the nature of the crime, the relationship between the accused and the witness, the age of the witness and whether the witness has a mental or physical disability.
If you want a support person or want to testify by closed-circuit television or behind a screen you or the Crown Prosecutor must make this request to the judge. You should talk to the Crown Prosecutor about this as early as possible before the court date. It is important to know that closed-circuit television equipment for testimony outside the courtroom is not available in all communities, so this may not be possible in every case.
Sometimes the accused person does not have a lawyer. This means the accused could cross-examine the witness directly. In some cases, the court can appoint a lawyer to cross-examine the witness on behalf of the accused. This can happen for witnesses under the age of 18, and for victims of criminal harassment (sometimes called stalking). If this request is made to the court, the judge will order this to happen, unless the judge believes that the accused needs to conduct the cross-examination personally to ensure the proper administration of justice.
For witnesses over the age of 18, a lawyer can be appointed to cross-examine them if the judge believes it is necessary for the witness to be able to speak freely about the crime. In deciding this the judge considers things like the nature of the crime, the relationship between the accused and the victim/witness, the age of the witness and whether the witness has a mental or physical disability.
If the charges are proven beyond a reasonable doubt at trial, the judge or jury finds the accused person guilty. If the charges are not proven, the accused is found not guilty. Another way of saying this is that the person accused of the crime is acquitted. After a person has been tried and acquitted, they may not be tried for that crime again, unless the Crown Prosecutor successfully appeals the case. If you are not in the courtroom for the verdict you can ask the Crown Prosecutor or Victim Services about the outcome of the trial.
As a victim you may not be satisfied with the way the trial turned out. For example, an accused may be acquitted even though you thought there was enough evidence for a conviction. If an accused is acquitted it does not necessarily mean that you were not believed. Our laws presume that someone is innocent unless their guilt is proved in court beyond a reasonable doubt. This means it is not enough that the judge thinks the accused probably committed the crime. The judge must be convinced that a guilty verdict is the only reasonable conclusion that could be reached from all the evidence, including your testimony. If you are unsatisfied with how a trial turned out it may help to talk about your reactions with someone you trust.
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