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A guide for witnesses

Monday, April 8, 2013
Law Made Simple

This article seeks to explain the role of witnesses and to advise on some important elements of the court process as it applies to them. 



How to address the court
In the Magistrates’ Court, the magistrate is addressed as Your Worship. In the High Court, the judge is addressed as My Lord or My Lady. For witnesses, Sir or Madam are also generally accepted ways of addressing the judge or magistrate.



How to dress for court
When in any court, your attire must be tasteful and respectful. There are no rigid set of rules but the following points are a guide. Men should wear long pants, and a shirt (either long or short sleeve) and shoes. Men should also be properly groomed. Men should not wear vests, sandals/slippers, t-shirts, short pants, or three-quarter pants. It is usual to tuck one’s shirt in your pants.


Women have a much wider option of appropriate clothing. As a personal guide, women should not wear clothing that is revealing or particularly fitted. Clothing should be tasteful and reflective of the honour of the court.



Understanding your role
The role of the witness is to assist in finding the truth and to aim to achieve justice. It should be the guiding principle of every witness to give true evidence, that is to say, give evidence which he/she knows about. Witnesses must not make up evidence to support their version of the events. To perform your duty to the best of your ability, follow these four basic steps:
• know why you are going to court
• listen to the questions being asked of you
• answer the questions honestly
• answer the questions with respect



An arrogant or defensive witness does not show strength but rather establishes the witness as unbelievable and untrustworthy. Carrying yourself with dignity and respect will usually be met with equal treatment. 


The oath or affirmation 
All witnesses must either be sworn or state an affirmation before they give their evidence. This means that the witness must state openly in court that he or she swears to tell the truth. This statement is made on the basis of one’s faith or religion, or on the basis of one’s own conscience and knowledge of what is right and true.


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