Useful advice about going to court when you are the victim
- The decision to lay charges must be yours, as the victim. However, be prepared that once that decision is made, all further decisions about the conduct of the case will be in other hands. You will need to remember that this is not your case - it now belongs to the State.
- Before making the decision to proceed, find out everything you can about the entire process: making a statement, the arrest procedure, bail conditions, the committal hearing, the trial and what support services are available to help you.
- Request any available literature about the court process and read it carefully. Victims Services has an excellent website called Justice Journey which has been designed to help victims and other witnesses through the NSW court system (There are other agencies in all States similar to Courtwise).
- Ask as many questions as you like. The more information you have the better prepared you will be.
- Write down everything you can remember about the crime. When it comes to making a Statement take the notes with you to help you remember everything you need to include in your Statement.
- If you cannot work with the police officer/s assigned to your case, speak to the officer in charge and request a change.
- Make sure that you are informed about each stage in the process before it happens.
In sexual assault cases, if you do not wish to face the accused in Court, ask to use the CCTV room. You may have your court support assistant stay with you in the CCTV room throughout your giving evidence and being cross examined.
- If you want a support person with you during the whole process, it is your right to do so. Demand it. Rape/incest crisis workers are usually very skilled in providing support for people.
- If you ever feel the need for protection from the accused, find out what can be done and demand it.
- Find out the name of the lawyer, in the prosecution's department, who is handling your case and contact them whenever you need to, recognising that there will be periods when they do not have additional information for you.
- Keep a diary of everything that happens, including the names of all lawyers and contact people involved, in case you need to contact them again. Then you will have a written account of what you have been told.
- If you feel like a break during the time you are testifying in court, ask for one. That too is your right.
- If you need a glass of water or a break, you are entitled to ask the Magistrate or Judge.
- Remember if you make a mistake when you are being cross examined, don't worry. Once Defence has completed cross examination, the Prosecutor is able to ask you further questions and ask you to clarify anything.
Being a witness
Preparing for court
Don't forget to ask the police for a copy of your statement before your day in court. Don't wait to receive it on the day of your court appearance. Read your statement as often as you can and especially the day before court. Remember your statement is what you will be tested on in court.
Think about the event/s you will be giving evidence about. What happened first and what happened next? Try to remember details like dates, times, descriptions, actions and exact words used. Read the statement you gave to the police. If you do not have a copy, you can ask the police officer involved in the case or the lawyer for a copy. Bring to court any statements, notes or documents you have about the case.
Arrange a meeting place at Court with the police officer in charge or your court support assistant. Try to arrive at Court on time so that you won't be flustered. It is important that you keep as calm as you possibly can under the circumstances.
The day in court
When you get to the court, go to the court office or inquiry counter and ask where you should wait. Very importantly, do not discuss your evidence with any other witnesses. Be prepared to wait. If you require special care or feel threatened in any way tell the police officer or the lawyer. Courts usually sit from 9.30 am to 4.00 pm.
In the courtroom
You will be told by the police officer in charge the court number where the case will be heard.
A court officer will call your name when it is your turn to give evidence. The court officer will ask you whether you wish to swear an oath on the Bible or make an affirmation (a promise to the court that you will tell the truth). You will then be taken into the Court room and shown to the witness box at the front of the courtroom.
The Crown Prosecutor will ask you questions about what happened. The Defence Lawyer will cross-examine you on your statement and the evidence you have just given. Remember, if you make a mistake when you are being cross-examined or wish to clarify what you've said, don't worry as the Crown Prosecutor gets to ask you questions again after you've been cross-examined. This may provide an opportunity of clarifying or amending the mistake if the Crown Prosecutor thinks it is important to do so. The Judge or Magistrate may also ask you questions about your evidence. Judges sit in the District Court and Supreme Courts and are addressed as 'Your Honour'. Magistrates sit in the Local Court and are also addressed as 'Your Honour'.
Consider each question before you answer. Don't rush. If you do not understand a question, please say so and ask for it to be repeated. Take your time so you can give a complete answer. If you are not sure about an answer, say so. Speak clearly. Keep yourself focused and your answers short and to the point.
Remember, if you need a break, ask the Judge / Magistrate. If you need a glass of water, ask for one. This is perfectly acceptable.
For support when going through the court process in NSW contact Victims and Witnesses of Crimes Support (VWCCS) through their website at www.vwccs.org.au.