Learn about being a witness

  • What all witnesses need to know
  • Being a witness for the defence

Our legal system depends on citizens coming forth and giving truthful evidence. This helps the judge determine the guilt or innocence of an accused person. Witnesses receive a court order to appear in court that's called a subpoena.

  1. What all witnesses need to know

    What is a subpoena?

    A subpoena is a court order that tells you that you must go to court at a set time and place to give evidence as a witness. You may be subpoenaed by:

    • the Crown;
    • the lawyer for the defence; or
    • both.

    If you move or change your phone number, tell the crown witness coordinator or lawyer who subpoenaed you.

    What happens if you don’t appear in court?

    You cannot refuse to go to court if you receive a subpoena. If you disobey a subpoena without good reason, you can be:

    • arrested; and
    • charged with a criminal offence.

    If, for very good reasons, you cannot be at court, you should immediately contact:

    • whoever subpoenaed you; or
    • phone the Public Prosecution Service of Canada 867-667-8100, or toll free 1-877-587-8499.

    You must get permission to be absent from court. If your evidence is very important, the trial might be rescheduled.

    What to do about work if you're served with a subpoena?

    • Tell your employer that you have to go to court to give evidence.
    • A subpoena is a court order and your employer must give you time off to testify in court.
    • Your employer is not required to pay you for time off, unless it's a term of your employment.

    What if you need childcare during court?

    Make arrangements for someone to care for your children while you’re in court.

    If you're a crown witness

    Speak to the crown witness coordinator to find out about a reimbursement for child-care expenses.

    Who can you speak to if you’re subpoenaed?

    If you receive a subpoena, you do not have to talk to the other party. If you have further questions, talk to the lawyer who subpoenaed you.

    How do you prepare for court?

    Witness for the Crown

    Each case that goes to trial is assigned a caseworker who assists crown witnesses. If your caseworker has not yet spoken to you, contact the crown witness coordinator before the date of the trial to find out who your caseworker is. Your caseworker can set up a court orientation before you appear in court.

    Witness for the defence

    You can ask the lawyer who subpoenaed you for an appointment to prepare you for giving evidence in court.

    On the day of the trial

    Try to be at court about 30 minutes early because the lawyer may want to ask you some questions. If you're testifying in Whitehorse, your case coordinator may want to speak to you before court.

    Bring with you:

    • the subpoena; and
    • any other documents you've been asked to bring to court.

    Let either the crown witness coordinator or the defence lawyer know if you want these items back after the trial.

    You can sit in the courtroom until the case is called. Sometimes the judge orders all of the witnesses outside the courtroom until it’s their turn to testify. This is done so that a witness will not be influenced by what another witness says.

    If the witnesses must leave the courtroom, you have to wait outside the courtroom until your name is called. After you’ve testified, you can usually stay in the courtroom, if you want to.

    In Whitehorse

    1. Look on the screen in the atrium of the Law Courts.
    2. Find the name of the accused. The courtroom number will be shown by the name of the accused.
    3. Go to the courtroom and wait outside for the crown or defence or witness coordinator to greet you. They will provide you with further instruction.

    If you cannot find the name of the accused, go to the Court Registry and ask a court clerk to help you.

    In a community

    Make yourself known to the party who subpoenaed you, or to the clerk of the court.

    What happens in court?

    Swearing in:

    • Your name will be called when it's time for you to give your evidence.
    • You should go to the witness box.
    • You'll be asked if you wish to swear an oath or make a solemn affirmation to tell the truth.
    • The court clerk will ask you to state your name and spell it for the court record.

    Giving evidence:

    The lawyers will ask you questions. It's your duty to answer truthfully. The judge may ask you questions at any time. If you do not understand a question, ask to have it repeated.

    After you testify

    You must stay in the courthouse until the judge excuses you. If you need to leave when you after testifying, tell the lawyer, who will ask the judge to allow you to be excused.

    Do you have to answer all questions?

    If you have any concerns about answering questions speak with your lawyer.

    How should you give evidence?

    • Take your time; there is no need to feel pressured.
    • Be sure you understand the question before you answer it.
    • If you don't understand a question, don't be afraid to say so.
    • If you become emotionally upset during your testimony, you may ask the judge to stop for a moment.
    • Be polite, even if the lawyer questioning you may appear to be aggressive.
    • If you make an honest mistake, inform the lawyer as quickly as possible so that the error can be corrected in court.
    • Instead of nodding your head for "yes" or shaking it for "no", clearly speak out so that all of your answers can be recorded.
    • Stand up when the judge enters or leaves the room.
    • Don't discuss your testimony with other witnesses.

    What if someone pressures you to lie, or to not go to court?

    It's illegal for anyone to harass or attempt to influence a witness. A charge of obstructing justice may be laid. Immediately tell:

    • the police; or
    • the lawyer who subpoenaed you; or
    • the crown witness coordinator.

    What is perjury?

    Telling a lie on purpose under oath or solemn affirmation is called "perjury". Neither an innocent mistake, nor an honest mistake is perjury. Perjury is a crime, and a person who commits a perjury can get up to 14 years in jail. As a witness it's your duty to tell the truth when you're court.

    What if you incurred costs for attending court?

    • Expert witnesses may be paid for their testimony.
    • Witnesses may be eligible for reimbursement of meals and incidentals. Ask the part who subpoenaed you about this.
    • Defence witnesses talk with the defence lawyer about having costs reimbursed.

    If you have more questions

    A crown witness coordinator can:

    • answer your questions about being a witness;
    • tell you about travel arrangements; and
    • give you information about reimbursement to help you cover your expenses.

    In person: 200-300 Main Street in Whitehorse. Their office is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
    Phone: 867-667-8100
    Phone toll free: 1-877-587-8499

  2. Being a witness for the defence

    There are no regulations for what fees you should receive, or expenses you should get covered. Talk to the lawyer who subpoenaed you to find out if you’ll receive any payment for testifying.

    Get more information

    The defence lawyer may have the information you need. Lawyers' phone numbers are:

    • listed in the yellow pages of the phone book; or
    • available by phoning the Yukon Law Society 867-668-4231.