Testifying in Court - An Overview

Someone called to court to testify – either as a victim or witness – is being asked to tell the court what they know about the incident, based on personal knowledge and facts. It is important that witnesses be truthful and clear about their evidence. 

Before they provide their evidence, they will be asked to swear an oath on the Bible or to solemnly affirm (promise) to “tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.” When a witness is a child under 14, they will be asked to promise to tell the truth. Lying in court is a criminal offence (perjury).

Except in special circumstances, a witness or victim will be expected to give their evidence with the accused present in the courtroom. When the witness is a child, is vulnerable, is too traumatized as a result of the crime or is physically or mentally disabled, Crown counsel may request a testimonial accommodation. This may, for example, allow the witness to testify from behind a screen.

Occasionally, a lawyer (Crown or defence counsel) will object to a question asked of a witness. This means the lawyer thinks the witness should not answer the question. If this happens, the witness should wait for the judge to decide whether they answer. Sometimes, the witness will be asked to temporarily leave the courtroom while the lawyers explain to the judge why the question should or should not be asked and answered. Questioning will continue once the witness return.

Questioning is complete once the judge tells the witness they are excused. 

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