Being a witness

This guidance assists witnesses who are giving evidence in court during a criminal proceeding that involves the death of a family member. It explains what happens before, during and after you give evidence.

Last updated

Wednesday 06 May 2020

Industries and topics
  • Community support services

Receiving a witness summons or subpoena

If you have spoken to a WorkSafe investigator or the Police and made a statement about a workplace incident involving your family member then you might be required to attend court to give evidence.

A summons or subpoena is a formal legal document and if you receive one you must go to court and give evidence about what you know about that incident. This would include everything in your statement. You will receive a summons from WorkSafe if you need to give evidence in the Magistrates’ Court and a subpoena from the Office of Public Prosecutions if you need to give evidence at a trial in the County Court or Supreme Court.

Please do not ignore the summons or subpoena. If you cannot attend court and give evidence a warrant for your arrest may be issued.

WorkSafe's Family Liason Officer (FLO) will contact you before the court date to talk about giving evidence. It is important the FLO can contact you before the hearing. If you change your address or telephone number, please let the FLO know.

The court date

The date on the witness summons or subpoena is the first day of the hearing. Hearings or trials can last for multiple days so this is not necessarily the date you need to come to court. The FLO will contact you closer to the hearing to provide more information about when you need to come to court.

Arrangements you need to make

Once WorkSafe has confirmed the date that you will need to attend court, please be available. For example, take time off work or study. Sometimes you may need to come to court on more than one day.

The FLO will make sure that there is an interpreter available to assist you to give evidence if you need one. If you haven’t used an interpreter when talking to a FLO but would like one to help you at court, please let the FLO know.

FLOs will be available to support you at court when you are giving evidence, but you are also welcome to bring a friend or a family member to support you.

If the court is in Melbourne’s CBD and you plan to drive, make sure you get all-day parking. Court can be delayed and things can take longer than expected. Once you start giving evidence you will not be able to leave the witness box to move your car. Public transport is a good way to get to court if it is in the city. If you think you will have difficulty getting to court please let the FLO know and they will be able to assist you.

During the hearing, you will not be allowed into the court room before you give evidence and you cannot talk to the lawyers, investigator, the FLO or other friends and family members about what is happening in court. Take something to read or pass the time while you wait outside.

Preparing to give evidence in court

By giving evidence you are helping paint a picture of what happened to your family member for a Magistrate, Judge or jury. You are making a valuable contribution to the criminal justice system. Courts cannot function without the help of truthful witnesses.

Read and be familiar with the contents of your statement before coming to court. There will be many months between making your statement and giving evidence as a witness, so this will refresh your memory about what you told the WorkSafe Investigator or police officer at the time of the incident. The FLO will talk to you in more detail about what to expect when you are giving evidence and if you have questions you can contact them.

It is important to know that depending on the case you are involved in you might be asked to come and give evidence twice. For example, once in front of a Magistrate and then again in front of a Judge and/or jury. If you have provided a witnesses statement you might not sit in court and watch the proceedings until after you have finished giving your evidence. You must not discuss your evidence with friends, family members and other witnesses. The FLO will talk to you about your court attendance but you can contact them if you have any questions.

At court

Court sits between 9.30am to 4.15pm with a break for lunch between 1.00pm and 2.00pm.

When you get to court you will need to:

  • go through court security
    • check the daily court list displayed on the notice board in the court foyer
      • find the name of the 'accused' (the company name or name of the individual) on the court list, and note the court number
        • go to that court room and wait outside for the FLO
          • not discuss your evidence or the case with anyone while you wait

            Please be aware delays can occur throughout the court system, so you may need to wait before giving evidence.

            Being called into the court room

            A court officer will call your name outside of the court room when it is your turn to give evidence. Once you hear your name called you will need to follow the court officer into the court room and ensure you bow at the Judge or Magistrate when you enter. This is part of court room etiquette. Once you are in the witness box they will require you to state your full name, and to either swear an oath on the Bible or other Holy Book to tell the truth. Alternatively, you can make an affirmation, which is a promise to tell the truth. This process is called being 'sworn in'.

            The process once you have been sworn in:

            • Evidence-in-chief. The prosecutor, who is WorkSafe’s lawyer, asks questions first. This is called 'evidence-in-chief'
              • the lawyer who represents the accused then asks questions. This is called 'cross-examination'
                • the prosecutor may then ask you some further questions. This is called 're-examination'
                  • the Magistrate or Judge may ask you questions too. Always address the Magistrate or Judge as 'Your Honour'.

                    You should direct your answers to the Magistrate or Judge.

                    Principles of giving evidence

                    • Tell the truth — this is the most important aspect of giving evidence.
                      • Listen to the question carefully before answering.
                        • Take your time answering questions and if you don’t understand the question then ask for it to be repeated.
                          • If you are not sure of the answer or can't remember, say so. Don't guess or make up an answer. It is ok to say ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I can’t remember’ if you really don’t know or can’t remember something
                            • If you need a break for any reason, ask the Magistrate or Judge, e.g. “Could I please have a break Your Honour?” If there is a break in your evidence while you are still under oath the lawyer, investigator or FLO will not be able to talk to you, do not be surprised if they walk past without stopping to chat. It is very important that you do not discuss the case with other witnesses or family members or friends who have been in court during the break.
                              • When you have finished, the Magistrate or Judge will excuse you. You are then free to go or to remain in court to watch the rest of the case.

                                Witness expenses

                                All witnesses who give evidence are entitled to be reimbursed for reasonable costs related to their attendance at court.

                                Examples of what you can claim:

                                • loss of wages (you must provide a letter from your employer and a copy of a recent payslip)
                                  • travel expenses (for example, kilometres travelled, train/tram/bus ticket, taxi receipt, parking)
                                    • meals (if you are required at court for a whole day, you are entitled to claim lunch if you have a receipt)

                                      When you receive your witness summons or subpoena you will also receive a witness expenses claim form. This must be completed before you can be reimbursed for any expenses. The form you get will be different depending on if you are giving evidence in the Magistrates Court or the County Court. Once you have finished giving evidence please complete the form and return it to the FLO.

                                      Related information