Witnessing a crime
Seeing a person commit a crime—particularly a violent crime—can be very distressing. If you do, you should not be afraid to report the incident or give evidence in court. Support and advice is available to help you throughout the legal process, and to help you recover form the emotional and psychological impact of witnessing the crime.
Victims of violent crime
As a victim of violent crime you are also an important witness. You should report the incident to the police as soon as possible; reporting the incident quickly can prevent valuable evidence from being lost or destroyed.
Reporting the crime to the police
If you witness a crime taking place you should report it to the police as soon as possible. You do not have to report the incident, but by doing so you may help the police catch the offender and prevent another person becoming a victim.
Don’t be afraid to go to the police; they will help you and the victim through what can be a very distressing event.
If a crime is happening or has just happened, you should call Triple Zero (000) immediately.
If think that the police are not needed urgently or you are unable to talk to the police straight away, phone Policelink—the police contact centre—on 131 444 once you are able to. Policelink is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also go to your local police station or Police Beat to report what you have seen.
If you do not want to report the incident directly, you can still report the crime anonymously through Crime Stoppers. Phone Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or report it online.
Giving a witness statement
If you see a crime, the police may ask you to give a witness statement. This is a written or recorded account of what you saw. If the police catch the offender, your witness statement may be used as evidence in court, although you may also be asked to appear in court to give your evidence personally.
Vulnerable witnesses—including victims of violent crime, children and people with disability—may provide a statement on video; however, in most cases a police officer will write down what you tell them about the incident.
You will be asked to read through the finished statement and sign to confirm that what it contains is an accurate account of what you saw. If the police prosecute the offender, your witness statement may be used as evidence in court, or you may need to give your evidence personally.
Providing evidence in court
If you are a witness to a crime, the police may ask you to give evidence against the offender in court. This could be months (or even years) after you have given your witness statement, as the police may need to investigate the incident and prepare a legal case.
If you refuse to attend court as a witness, you may be legally ordered to attend—this is called a summons if you are needed as a witness in Magistrates Court or a subpoena if you are called as a witness in the District or Supreme Court. If you are summonsed or subpoenaed and do not attend court, you may be found guilty of contempt of court and a warrant may be issued for your arrest. If a summons or subpoena is not issued you do not have to appear in court as a witness; however, by doing so you may help convict the offender and prevent another person becoming a victim.
As a witness in court you may be asked questions about what you saw by both the defense and prosecution lawyers. This is to confirm your version of events and to ensure the facts presented about the crime are correct; this will help the court come to a fair decision.
Vulnerable witnesses— this may include the victim, children and people with an intellectual disability—may have a support person with them in court, or may provide evidence via a video link so they do not need to face the accused person in court.
Support for witnesses going to court
The court process can be daunting for a witness, particularly if you have witnessed a violent crime. You can get support and advice from Victim Assist Queensland’s by calling 1300 546 587. They can provide information and advice about the legal process and help you prepare for your appearance in court.
Expenses for witnesses appearing in court
If you are subpoenaed to appear as a witness in court, you can receive travel expenses to get to and from court—called conduct money. You are also entitled to be paid for any loss of earnings you suffer as a result of appearing as a witness; however, the actual amount you receive will be decided by the court.
Protecting you from threats and intimidation
It is against the law to threaten or intimidate a witness in any way. The police will do all they can to protect you.
If you are contacted by anybody other than the police or a prosecution lawyer about what you saw, contact the police immediately.
Free counselling for witnesses of crime
Free counselling is available from Relationships Australia to help you recover from the emotional and psychological impact of witnessing a crime. Phone 1300 139 703 or 1300 364 277 to find out about the services they can provide, or to make an appointment to see a councilor.
Find out more about the support Relationships Australia provide to witnesses of crime.
Financial support and advice for witnesses of violent crime
Victim Assist Queensland helps people recover from the physical and emotional effects of violent crime. Seeing an act of violence can be very distressing. If you witness a violent crime Victim Assist can provide advice and financial support for services you may need to get your life back on track, such as medical care and counselling.
Find out more about the support available to witnesses of violent crime.
To speak to an information officer on 1300 546 587 (1300 LINKUP). The support line is open Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 5.00pm (except public holidays).