Witnessing a crime
Seeing a person commit a crime—particularly a violent crime—can be very distressing. You should not feel afraid to report the incident or to give evidence in court. Support and advice is available to help you:
- throughout the legal process
- to recover from the emotional and psychological impacts of witnessing the crime.
If you are a victim of a violent crime you are also an important witness.
Reporting the crime to the police
You should report the incident to the police as soon as possible; this can prevent valuable evidence from being lost or destroyed. It may also help them catch the offender and prevent another person from being harmed.
Don’t be afraid to go to the police. They will help you 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 you think the police are not needed urgently or you are unable to talk to the police straight away, phone Policelink on 13 14 44 when you feel you are ready. 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.
Giving a witness statement
If you see or know something about a crime, or are involved in the events in some way, the police may ask you to give a witness statement. A police officer will write down or record what you saw, heard or know.
You will be asked to read through the finished statement and sign it. This confirms that it is an accurate report of what you said. It is important that your statement is true, to the best of your recollection. It is a serious matter to give false information to the police. Your information can help the judge and jury, or magistrate make a decision in a court case.
After giving a witness statement
After you have given a witness statement to police, the matter will need to be investigated and the police will need to prepare a case for court. This can take months, and in some cases, years for the matter to go from the police investigation to an outcome in court.
It is important to remember that at all times, you have the right to have your role as a witness and the court process explained to you, including information about when you need to attend court and what you can expect when you are there.
Providing evidence in court
If the police charge the offender, your witness statement may be used as evidence in court. You may be asked to appear in court to give your evidence in person. This is called a:
- summons—if you are needed as a witness in the Magistrates Court
- subpoena—if you are called as a witness in the Supreme or District Court.
If you are summonsed or subpoenaed, you must attend court
If you do not attend court, you may be found guilty of contempt of court and a warrant may be issued for your arrest.
As a witness in court you may be asked questions about what you saw, heard and know by both the defence and prosecution lawyers. This is to:
- confirm your version of events in your police statement
- ensure the facts presented about the crime are correct
- help the court come to a fair decision.
It is normal to feel nervous, frightened or worried about giving evidence in a courtroom. Let your police officer, court support worker, or prosecutor know if you are feeling afraid or need support when giving evidence.
If you are a ‘special witness’, arrangements can be made to help reduce the trauma of going to court to give evidence. Special witnesses can include people who:
- are under 16 years
- have a disability and are likely to be
- disadvantaged as a witness
- suffer severe emotional trauma
- be intimidated at a hearing
- are witnesses to organised crime
- are a victim or witness to domestic and family violence
- are a victim of sexual assault.
The prosecutor must apply to the court for arrangements to be made for a special witness. A judge or magistrate will make a decision about the application they receive from the prosecutor.
Arrangements may be made for special witnesses so they are unable to see, or in some cases hear the defendant (the person who is accused of the crime). These may include:
- pre-recording the evidence on video before the trial or hearing date
- giving evidence from a remote witness room
- putting up a screen in the courtroom.
Other arrangements may include:
- having a support person with the witness in the courtroom or special witness room
- closing the court to the public and the media so the witness only gives evidence in front of the people required to be in the courtroom.
Support for witnesses going to court
The court process can be stressful, especially if you have witnessed a 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, we can provide advice and financial support for services to get your life back on track, such as counselling.
Find out more about the support available to witnesses of violent crime.
Payment for appearing as a witness
If you are subpoenaed or summonsed to appear as a witness in court, you can receive travel expenses to get to and from court— this is 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. The actual amount you receive will be decided by the police or the Office of the Director of Public Prosecution.
Protection from threats and intimidation
It is against the law to threaten or intimidate a witness in any way. You have a right to be protected at court from unnecessary contact with, or violence or intimidation by, the accused person and their witnesses, family members or friends. If you are contacted by anybody other than the police or a prosecution lawyer about what you saw or know, you should notify 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 impacts of witnessing a crime.
Phone Relationships Australia on 1300 139 703 to find out about the services they can provide, or to make an appointment to see a counsellor.
Find out more about Relationships Australia’s victims counselling and support service.