Criminal Complaints: In the Courtroom
There are often many people in a courtroom. Knowing who is who, what each person's role is, and what is expected of you as a witness should help you understand what is going on around you.
For an audio/visual version of the information about the courtroom, click here.
Who is in the Courtroom?
Clerk of the Court
- is the judge's assistant
- says "all rise" when the judge enters the courtroom
- will ask the witness to take an oath or to make an affirmation promising to tell the truth
- calls witnesses by name to take the stand and asks them to give their full name for the court reporter to record it properly
- sits in front of courtroom near the judge
- records (usually via computer) everything that people say while the trial is going on
- acts as the defender of society, not as the witness's lawyer. The accused is seen as someone who may have committed a crime against the values of society. Thus, the Crown Prosecutor defends society's values. (You will also hear the Crown Prosecutor called the Crown or the Prosecutor. These terms mean the same thing.)
- does NOT represent the victim
- decides whether the case will proceed
- will not drop a case at the victim's request
- will get at the truth. If there is not enough evidence, the Prosecutor will likely recommend that the trial not proceed.
- is very busy and will probably not contact you unless you are a key witness and he or she needs to talk to you
- refers to the other lawyer as "my friend" as a sign of respect
- must be informed of any new evidence or information that you may have
- works for the person accused of breaking the law
- may try to find out if a witness is confused or making things up
- asks the witness questions when the Crown Prosecutor has finished (referred to as cross-examination)
- may ask you the same questions in different ways
- tests the credibility of each witness's evidence
- listens to everyone's story and fits the pieces together like a puzzle until he or she understands the whole picture
- when there is no jury, decides whether the accused is, or is not, guilty
- is called "Your Honour," "Your Lordship," "My Lord," or "My Lady"
- asks you to stand down when you have finished testifying and being cross-examined
- decides on the appropriate sentence when the accused is found guilty
- may or may not be there (depending on the nature of the crime and the decision of the accused)
- is composed of 12 adult Canadian citizens, men and women, selected for jury duty
- acts as "finder of fact"
- makes a decision independently. Jury verdicts must be unanimous for the court to act.
- maintains a safe environment in the courtroom
- wears a uniform that looks similar to a police officer's uniform
- A witness is called to give evidence in court in order to discover the truth. It is important that you answer honestly.
- You have been called as a witness because you have valuable information about the case. Your contribution is important so that the courts can make a fair decision.
- A witness is subpoenaed by the court. A subpoena is a court order that requires or compels a witness to attend.
- Witnesses are not expected to be experts in court process. They are expected to tell what they saw or know.
Some tips if you are a witness
- Arrive 15 minutes early and let the Crown Prosecutor know that you have arrived.
- Once the case begins, all the witnesses will be instructed to leave the courtroom. This is called an order of exclusion.
- If you are asked to leave the courtroom make sure that you stay just outside the courtroom so that you are easy to find when it is your turn to testify.
- The Crown Prosecutor will call a witness first; then the defence will call its first witness.
- You may be the first one called to testify.
- The accused may plead guilty before or during the proceedings.
- The court may be delayed for a number of reasons; you may ask the Crown why.
What should you remember when testifying?
- It's important to remember that if you do not know the answer to a question you should not try to guess. Say "I do not know" or "I do not remember".
- If you do not understand a question, ask for it to be rephrased. Speak clearly and loudly.
- You must always respond verbally. The court records only verbal responses. When saying yes or no, you must use those words rather than nod or shake your head.
- Do not discuss your testimony with others. You may discuss your case with the Crown Prosecutor and police, but no one else.
- If you make a mistake, let the Crown Prosecutor know.
- It is recommended that you look your best when testifying.
- You will be required to take an oath. If for religious reasons you can not, let the Crown Prosecutor know in advance.
- You have a right to review your police statement before you testify. If you do not have a copy, you can obtain one from the Crown Prosecutor.
- It is okay for you to ask for something you need, for example, tissues, glass of water, or use of the washrooms.
- It is the defense lawyer's responsibility to ask many questions to determine the accuracy of your testimony. This is called cross-examination. The defense lawyer might suggest something that you, the witness, partially agree or disagree with. You can explain to the judge which part(s) you agree and disagree with. Try not to get too distressed if it sounds like you are not being believed.
Preparing for the trial
- Get a copy of your statement and read it over.
- If you made any notes at the time of the assault, ask the Crown Prosecutor if you can bring them with you to court.
- Go over the events in your mind and try to place them in order. Make sure you remember the date, time, and place of the assault.
- You can arrange a meeting with the Crown Prosecutor before the trial.
- Let the Crown Prosecutor know ahead of time if you need a translator or an interpreter.
- Take the subpoena and any other important documents with you to the meeting with the Crown Prosecutor. A subpoena is a court document that requires or compels a witness to attend.
If you do not show up to testify
- If you stay away from the trial on purpose, you could be charged with a criminal offense.
- If you do not obey the court document known as subpoena, you can be found in contempt of court. The judge could issue a warrant for your arrest.
- If you do not want to testify, speak with the Crown Prosecutor ahead of time and before you are subpoenaed.
How much time is involved?
- The trial may take several hours.
- More serious and complicated trials can take several days.