If you are subpoenaed as a witness to give evidence at court you may feel afraid, stressed or worried. You may be concerned that if you give evidence about a matter your employment will be in jeopardy or you will get sacked. You might decide that it is all too hard and you will not go to court because you don’t want to. However, you cannot ignore a subpoena to attend court to give evidence.
Do I have to go to court and give evidence?
Our law provides that if you have been served with a subpoena to attend court to give evidence at a date, time and place, you must attend. If you fail to attend court without a lawful excuse, you may be punished for contempt of court.
What should I expect?
If you are a layperson, the judicial officer will not expect you to be familiar with the courtroom and will be forgiving if you are unsure of the process.
Generally, the questions you will be asked will concern the information you have previously given to a lawyer, insurer or police officer in a statement or affidavit. You should familiarise yourself with your statement or affidavit before court.
You will only be asked about matters that are admissible and necessary for the relevant circumstances. You have a duty to answer the questions truthfully to assist the court in arriving at the truth.
If you are required for cross-examination, you may be asked further questions by the other parties’ barrister. Depending on the nature of your evidence, the barrister will have instructions from their client and may have to put their client’s instructions to you for your comment. You can agree or disagree with the question being asked. If you are unsure of the answer, it is permissible for you to say you are unsure.
If you knowingly give false evidence on a material matter in any proceeding, orally or in writing, you may be charged with perjury or attempting to pervert the course of justice and will be liable to imprisonment.
If I didn’t sign a written statement, can I still be called to give evidence?
It is a misperception that if you do not sign a statement you will not have to go to court to give evidence.
If a lawyer asked to take a statement from you regarding your knowledge of a matter, it was because the information you could give was relevant and may resolve the dispute between the parties without the need for a fully contested hearing.
The parties in conflict usually meet before court and participate in a conference discussing the issues they agree and disagree about. The aim of these pre-trial conferences is to narrow the issues which may in turn avoid the need to have a trial.
If you do not want to attend court to give evidence, you should pay attention to the lawyers who ask to take a statement from you as your statement may resolve the dispute. If the dispute is resolved at the pre-trial phase, there is no need to attend court and give evidence. If the dispute cannot be resolved during the pre-trial phase, there is a likelihood that you will be subpoenaed to attend court to give evidence.