If you are the witness to a crime that is happening now, call 911 immediately. Report the crime. The police will talk to the witnesses to understand what happened. A police report may be created.
To report a crime that happened earlier, a witness can telephone the police or go to a police station. Anyone can report a crime anonymously (without identifying yourself) by contacting Crime Stoppers on the Internet. If a person is charged with the crime and goes to court, witnesses will probably be called to testify – provide information – when the accused goes to trial.
If you are the witness of a crime and you would rather not talk to the police, contact VictimLinkBC at 1-800-563-0808. This is a free, confidential, multilingual telephone service in BC. It is open 24 hours every day.
Tips for Appearing in Court
As a witness to a criminal activity, you may be asked to appear in court. Your first-hand information is very important to the outcome of the trial. Before you go to court, here are some tips to help you prepare
It is a good idea to get some information about what to expect before you go to court. Often there are delays and you may also need to come to court a few times for your case. Here are some tips to help you prepare.
- It may be one year between the time of the event and a trial. It will become important to have a collection of notes, recordings and documents.
- Makes notes about the event as soon as possible. Write out a step-by-step summary of what happened. Capture all the detail you can remember.
- Do you have pictures or a recorded video?
- Keep all your documents about the event in a safe place.
- Make a list of the key points of the event. Be sure to note key dates, times and other details. You will bring this outline with you to court.
- Ask Crown Counsel or the police officer to meet with you to review your information before going into the court.
- Talk to the Victim/Witness Assistance staff, Crown Counsel or the police officer about testifying in court.
- If you have a job, your employer must give you the time off to attend court.
- Tell the Crown Counsel or the Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff if you are pregnant or have any special needs due to a disability, or an illness such as asthma, diabetes or epilepsy. If you need transportation or other assistance, ask for it.
- Tell the Crown Counsel, police officer, or the Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff, if you do not understand at least one of Canada’s official languages (French or English).
- If someone is making you afraid to go to court, it is important to tell the police officer or a victim service worker right away.
Going to Court
- Visit a courtroom before you testify. It will help you to get a feeling for how a trial works. Courts are public places and you can sit in on almost any trial. You can talk to the sheriffs, registry staff or other court workers about trials scheduled for the day you visit. Ask if there is one where a victim or witness is testifying.
- The day of your appearance, plan to be at court for the whole day. No one knows exactly when you will begin your testimony or how long it will take.
- You may wish to bring a support person with you to court.
- Wear comfortable dress clothes.
- Bring reading, knitting or other things that will help keep you occupied while you wait.
- Be sure to eat and drink throughout the day. Have fruit or a snack bar with you in case you get hungry.
- When you are called to testify, speak to the judge when you give your answers. Even though someone else is asking you the questions, you should address the judge. Don’t speak directly to the accused or anyone else.
- Speak clearly and calmly. As much as you can, stay focused on answering the question you were just asked. If you don’t understand something, ask for it to be repeated or explained.
- Sometimes, one of the sides may try to confuse you and make you seem uncertain about the facts. You can review your outline notes while you are on the stand, but you should not read directly from them.
Your Voice in Criminal Court
- Your Voice in Criminal Court is a video that helps introduce adult witnesses to court by offering general discussion points on a variety of court-related topics. The video was developed for Provincial Court, but much of the information applies to Supreme Court as well.
- Victim Service Workers help educate victims and witnesses about criminal court process. Victim Service Workers, Crown Counsel and other professionals use this video to support adult victims and witnesses through the criminal court process.
- Produce in 2008 by the Justice Education Society and the Victim Services and Community Programs Division of the BC Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General.
- CourtChoices.ca is a website that was produced to help children who need to testify in court. The site includes an animated presentation to explain court processes and a video, called: Let’s Go to Court. It can be especially stressful and uncertain for youth to have to go to court. Watching this video will help.