Useful advice about going to court when you are the victim
It is your decision to lay charges if you are the victim. It is important to know that once that decision is made, all further decisions about the case will be in other hands. This is because in legal terms the case is not your case - it now belongs to the State.
Before deciding to proceed, find out everything you can about the whole process. This includes making a statement, the arrest procedure, bail conditions, the committal hearing, the trial and the support services available to help you.
Request information about the court process and read it carefully. Victims Services has an excellent website called Justice Journey to help victims and other witnesses through the NSW court system.
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 you are preparing to make a Statement take your notes with you to help you remember everything you need to include in your Statement.
If you can’t work with the police officer/s assigned to your case, speak to the officer in charge and ask for someone else.
Make sure that you are informed about each stage in the process before it happens.
In sexual assault cases, if you don’t wish to face the accused in Court, ask to use the CCTV room. If you have a support person with you, they can stay in the CCTV room while you give your evidence and are cross examined.
Having a support person with you during the whole process is your right if you want it.
If you ever feel you need to be protected from the accused, find out what can be done and request it.
Find out the name of the lawyer, in the prosecution's department, who is handling your case. Contact them whenever you need to. Recognise that there will be times when they don’t have any additional information for you.
Keep a diary of everything that happens. Make sure this includes the names of all lawyers and contact people involved, in case you need to contact them again. This will become a written account of what you’ve been told.
If you need a break when you are testifying in court, ask for one. That 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 can ask further questions and ask you to clarify anything.
Being a witness
PREPARING FOR COURT
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 about which you will be giving evidence. 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 don’t have a copy, you can ask the police officer involved in the case or the lawyer for a copy. Bring any statements, notes or documents you have about the case with you to court.
Arrange a meeting place at Court with the police officer in charge or your court support person. Try to arrive at Court on time so that you won't be flustered. It is important to keep as calm as you 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. Don’t 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 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 your evidence given. Remember, if you make a mistake when you are being cross-examined or wish to clarify what you've said, don't worry. The Crown Prosecutor questions you again after you've been cross-examined. This is an opportunity to clarify or fix the mistake if the Crown Prosecutor thinks it’s important. 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 don’t understand a question, 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 focused. Keep 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.
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.