Witnesses

If you are called by the ODPP to be a prosecution witness, it is because you have important information that is relevant to a criminal case. You are making a valuable contribution to our system of justice by appearing as a witness. Justice cannot be done without witnesses giving evidence in court.

The role of the ODPP

The ODPP is the independent prosecuting authority for the State of Western Australia, responsible for the prosecution of all serious offences committed against State criminal laws. The ODPP does not investigate crime — that is the role of investigating agencies such as the WA Police Force and the Corruption and Crime Commission (CCC).

The staff at the ODPP will help you understand your role as a witness and explain court procedure. If you have any questions about being a witness, please ask the prosecutor or paralegal involved with the case.

Your contact details and unavailability

If the accused person pleads not guilty and you are required to give evidence, the ODPP will write to you advising you of your need to be a witness. Information about being a witness is also available on this page. You will also receive a form called “Witness Contact Details and Unavailability”. It is important that you complete this form and return it to us so that we can keep in touch with you and accommodate any dates that you are unavailable. If you do not advise us of times when you know you will not be available (such as holidays), it may not be possible for us to ensure you are not inconvenienced when the trial takes place.

If your contact details change, it is important that you let us know. You can do this by contacting us.

Before the trial

The Court will set the date for when the trial will commence. A sheriff's officer or police officer will usually contact you to arrange the service of a witness summons, which is a legal document formally requiring your attendance in court.

When you receive the summons you should contact the ODPP if travel and accommodation arrangements need to be made. Otherwise, the ODPP will make contact with you prior to the trial to arrange an appointment to discuss your evidence and to explain the trial process. In some circumstances arrangements may be made for overseas, interstate or remote witnesses to give evidence by video link. Please contact the ODPP if you wish to discuss this.

If you have difficulty understanding or speaking English, difficulty hearing or require assistance, you should contact the ODPP. We will arrange for an interpreter or for appropriate assistance throughout the case.

If you feel threatened in any way by the accused or any other person, tell the prosecutor as soon as possible so that the situation can be discussed with you.

Please also contact the ODPP if you change your contact details or if you will be away from home at the date of the trial.

The day of the trial

The prosecutor may have arranged for you to meet at a particular part of the court. If no arrangements have been made, attend at the court registry counter and ask where you should wait. The court staff will direct you to the allocated court room. It will be helpful if you bring along your witness summons.

Usually the prosecutor will see you before you are called to give your evidence.

Witnesses are required to wait outside of the courtroom before giving evidence. Every effort will be made to ensure that you are not inconvenienced more than is necessary, however, please be prepared to wait. We appreciate that your time is valuable and that a long wait can be inconvenient, but delays sometimes cannot be avoided. It is imperative that you do not discuss your evidence with anyone whilst waiting.

Courts usually sit from 10am to 4pm, with a break between 1:15pm and 2:15pm for lunch.

In the court room

Your name will be called when it is your turn to give evidence. You will then be shown into the court room and to the witness box.

You should remain standing and the court officer will ask you to take an oath (a promise on the Bible) or an affirmation (a non-religious promise) to tell the truth when giving your evidence. You will then be asked to sit down.

The prosecutor will ask you a series of questions about what you heard or saw, or know that is relevant to the case. The accused person's lawyer will then "cross examine" you by asking you additional questions. Following that, the prosecutor may ask further questions to clarify any matters raised in cross-examination.

A judge will preside over the case and may also ask you questions about your evidence.

A jury will generally be present in court and will make the final decision at the end of the case. It is important that they hear and understand what you say.

In rare cases, the trial may be presided over by a judge alone without a jury. The process is similar, with the judge hearing all the evidence and making the decision at the end of the case.

Giving evidence

When you give your evidence in court:

  • You are allowed (and encouraged) to read your witness statement in the days before you give evidence, but you will not be allowed to read from it in court when answering questions except in particular instances.  

  • You do not need to memorise your statement; you should simply answer questions honestly and to the best of your memory. 

  • Only answer the question you are asked; if more information is required, you will be asked further questions.  

  • Consider each question carefully before you answer.

  • If you do not understand any question, please say so.

  • Take your time so you can give a complete answer.

  • Do not guess, if you are not sure about an answer just say so.

  • Do not say what someone else has told you unless you are asked.

  • Speak clearly so that your evidence can be understood. The microphone in front of you only records your voice, it does not make it louder.

  • If giving evidence is distressing you and you need a break please inform the judge.

After you have given your evidence and are excused by the court, you are free to leave. You may remain to watch the rest of the trial if you wish.

Travel arrangements

If substantial travel will be involved in attending court, or if you need financial assistance to get to court, you should contact the ODPP as soon as possible after receiving the witness summons. The ODPP will make travel arrangements on your behalf after first discussing this with you.

In some circumstances, it may be possible for you to give your evidence by video-link. The ODPP will make all the arrangements for the video-link, if this is how you will give your evidence.

It is generally expected that witnesses will get to court using public transport. Travel by car can only be reimbursed if there are no public transport options or if other special circumstances apply, and only if prior approval from the ODPP has been obtained.

If you receive a witness summons, you will also receive further information, and claim forms, for reimbursement of travel expenses.

Accommodation

If your attendance at court will require an overnight stay at a hotel you should contact us, so suitable arrangements can be made. You will be provided with a reasonable standard of accommodation close to the court and basic meals. Costs for personal items such as telephone calls and alcohol will not be met.

Meals

You may be reimbursed for reasonable meal expenses incurred whilst you are away from home. Receipts should be obtained. Alcohol will not be reimbursed.

Childcare

If you require childcare, please contact the ODPP or the Court where you will be giving evidence.

Other expenses

Reimbursement of any other expenses associated with attending court can only be made if approval is obtained in advance from the ODPP.

Loss of income

If you are employed,

  • S.119 of the Evidence Act states that employers must continue to pay any earnings that a witness could reasonably expect to have been paid while attending court.

  • Employers may then submit a claim to the ODPP for reimbursement of these costs.

Self-employed witnesses or contractors may also be entitled to some reimbursement if an actual loss of income can be clearly established. If you receive a summons to appear as a witness, you will receive further information about how to claim loss of income if you are self-employed.

Employers - how to claim for reimbursement of employees earnings

Employers must complete this form and return it to the ODPP with the necessary documentation to claim for reimbursement of earnings paid to employees who have been absent from work to attend court as a prosecution witness.

How to claim for witness fees and expenses

Claims for reimbursement of public transport costs and for basic witness expenses ($15 can be paid for basic witness expenses) can be made at the ODPP office in the District Court building in Perth. You will first need to have an ODPP prosecutor or paralegal complete a Witness Attendance Slip, which confirms your attendance at court to give evidence. If you receive a summons to give evidence, this form and further information about witness expenses will be provided to you before you go to court.

Claims for any other expenses such as loss of income if you are self-employed, or where the ODPP has given prior approval for travel by car, will need to be made on a separate claim form. This form needs to be sent to the ODPP for checking and processing. You will receive this form along with all of the other information that is sent to witnesses when they are summonsed to give evidence.

Further information

If you have any questions about your appearance in court, your evidence or anything else to do with the case, talk to the ODPP prosecutor or paralegal handling the case, or contact the ODPP. Please also see the Frequently Asked Questions section of this website.

Page reviewed 22 December 2020