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Do you know a woman who is being abused? A legal rights handbook

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What if I am asked to testify?

The victim's testimony is always important. It is usually needed to get a conviction. This is because in a case of family violence, the victim is often the only person who was present during the abuse.

Before the trial, the Crown Attorney will probably introduce themselves to you. They will also tell you about the trial process, the evidence they have, and when they will call you to testify. If you gave a statement to the police after you were assaulted, a police officer will probably give you a copy of your statement to review before the trial.

If you have been given a subpoena, you must go to court. If you do not go to court to testify on that date, the Crown Attorney can ask for a warrant for your arrest. This does not happen very often, but if it does happen the police can arrest you and bring you to court.

Subpoena: a document that orders you to go to court on a specific date.

Warrant: a document that allows the police or immigration authorities to arrest you.

Preparing to testify

VWAP can help you get a meeting with the Crown Attorney. They can also let you know what you can expect in court, and might be able to give you a courtroom tour.

Important: If you gave a statement to the police, you can ask to read or watch it again before you go to the trial. This will help you remember what you said, before you testify in court. You will probably not be able to keep the statement with you while you testify.

Sometimes, an abuser makes threats to try to stop his partner from testifying in court. For example, your partner might threaten to take the children from you. If he does this, call the police. He can be charged for making this type of threat.

Testifying in court

You might want to get to the court at least one hour before the trial is scheduled to start, so you can get settled and speak with anyone you need to.

Usually, you are the first witness to tell the judge what happened. The Crown Attorney will ask you questions and you must answer them. Take your time and answer the questions carefully and honestly. Do not worry about hesitating before you answer. If you do not understand the question, ask to have it repeated. If you do not know the answer to a question or do not remember, tell the Crown Attorney.

When the Crown Attorney is finished, your partner's lawyer will ask you questions. These questions are usually harder to answer, because the defence lawyer might challenge what you say and try to make your story less believable. They might also try to suggest answers that can weaken the case and make the judge believe that:

  • you are making up what happened
  • you were hurt by someone else, not your partner
  • you tried to hurt him first and he acted in self-defence
  • you are unreasonable or unstable
  • your story is not believable
  • you are doing this so you can get custody of the children
  • you are doing this to try to get money from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board.

You have to answer the questions unless the Crown Attorney objects and the judge decides that you do not have to answer. Answer each question honestly, clearly, and completely. Try not to give more information than is asked for.

Your partner or his family might try to intimidate or bother you. If you are concerned, tell the investigating police officer, court security, or someone at the VWAP.

Other witnesses might testify after you do. They will be asked to wait outside the courtroom until they are called so they will not be influenced by what you and other witnesses say. Witnesses can include doctors, police officers, the person who took pictures of your injuries, or neighbours who saw or heard the incident.

After you finish testifying, you can leave the courthouse. You might choose to stay and watch the rest of the trial, but you do not have to stay.

If you need support during the trial, you can bring someone to court with you. Talk to VWAP about other things that can be done to help you feel more comfortable.