Going to court
Victims and witnesses may have to go to court to give evidence in the criminal case.
Victims and family members who are not required to give evidence might also wish to go to court to watch a hearing.
This page provides information about what to expect if you go to court to give evidence or to watch a criminal case.
Information about the main steps in court process is available here The court process.
Going to court videos
These videos show you what the inside of each court room looks like, who you might see and what they do.
Before the court hearing
Victims and witnesses may have to give evidence
Whether or not you will have to give evidence depends on what happens in the criminal case. It is difficult to predict what will happen in a criminal case. In some cases, victims and witnesses will not have to give evidence.
In other cases, victims and witnesses might have to give evidence on one or more occasions in the:
- Magistrates’ Court for the committal hearing
- County Court or Supreme Court for the trial.
If you have to give evidence you will receive a summons or a subpoena
A summons or subpoena is a legal document telling you that you have to go to court.
If you have made a statement to police and you are required to give evidence you will receive:
- a summons to attend the Magistrates’ Court
- a subpoena to attend the County Court or Supreme Court.
Double check what date and time you need to go to court
Double check with the police informant or the OPP solicitor about what date and time you need to go to court. Put this date in your calendar.
This is important because:
- The date on the summons or subpoena is usually the date that the case is due to start. This may not be the date that you need to go to court.
- Sometimes, court hearings are moved (or adjourned) to a different date. If this happens, the police informant, OPP solicitor or VWAS social worker will tell you when you will be needed at court.
If you are not sure when you have to go to court you should contact the police informant, OPP solicitor or VWAS social worker.
You can take a tour of the court room or the remote witness room
If you would like to see what the court room or the remote witness room looks like before you give your evidence, talk to the VWAS social worker. They can arrange a court tour to show you what to expect inside a court room and a remote witness room.
You can also watch our Going to court videos as a first step.
Prepare yourself for what you might see and hear in the court room
It can be useful to prepare yourself for what you will see and hear in the courtroom. The evidence in the case might include distressing images and distressing information. Talking about traumatic events and personal and intimate details can be challenging.
Being calm and in control of your emotions in a formal court setting or in front of a jury may be incredibly difficult. If you have concerns about being in court, you can talk to the VWAS social worker or Court Network before you go to court.
Read over your statement
If you are a witness you will have made a statement to the police informant about everything you remember about what happened.
Before you give evidence:
- read over your statement
- think about what you said in your statement
- refresh your memory about any documents (like photos or receipts) you might have mentioned in your statement.
It is important to read over your statement before you give evidence because you will not have the statement in front of you when you give your evidence.
If there is anything in your statement you would like to add or change, tell the police informant as soon as possible before your court date.
Do not discuss your evidence
It is critical you do not to discuss your evidence with anyone else, especially other witnesses.
If you have questions, speak to the police informant or the OPP solicitor.
Organise how you will get to court
If you are going to court in Melbourne, the court buildings are on the corner of Lonsdale Street and William Street in Melbourne CBD.
Parking in Melbourne CBD can be expensive. You will not be reimbursed for parking costs.
If you are taking public transport:
- allow plenty of time to get to court, in case there are delays
- be aware that the accused person and their support people may also be taking public transport and you might see them.
Locations, maps, transport and parking details for all suburban Magistrates’ Courts can be found here Magistrates’ Court of Victoria.
Your VWAS social worker can provide information about transport options, parking and how to get to court.
There are no childcare facilities at the courts or at the Office of Public Prosecutions.
It is important to organise someone to look after any children in your care while you are at court.
It is a good idea to allow extra time in case the court hearing is delayed or takes longer than expected.
Special arrangements for giving evidence
It is normal to feel anxious or intimidated about going to court to give evidence. If you are worried about giving evidence, please let the OPP solicitor or VWAS social worker know.
Usually a victim or witness will give evidence from inside the courtroom, however, there are special arrangements that are available to some victims and witnesses to help reduce the stress of giving evidence. This includes children, young people, people with a cognitive impairment and victims of sexual offending or family violence.
Some victims and witnesses are entitled by law to these special arrangements. In other cases, the prosecutor will need to ask for permission from the magistrate or judge.
It may be possible to:
- give evidence from a room away from the court room via a video link
- have a support person with you when you give evidence (provided this support person is not also a witness)
- have a support dog with you when you give evidence
- have a screen in the court room so that you do not see the accused person while you give evidence
- close the court to the public while you give evidence.
This video explains some of the ways that you can give evidence and the main steps if you have to give evidence in a criminal trial in the Court or Supreme Court.
This video explains the role of Lucy the support dog and how she supports victims and witnesses during the legal process.
On the day of the court hearing
Court sitting times
The Magistrates’ Court usually hears cases from 10am until 4pm with a lunch break from 1pm until 2pm.
The County Court and Supreme Court usually hear cases from 10am until 4.15pm with a lunch break from 1pm until 2pm.
Sometimes the courts will have different hours.
If you are not sure what time to go to court, ask the police informant, OPP solicitor or VWAS social worker.
Delays and waiting at court
There can be lots of waiting at court. Sometimes the case will be delayed or moved to another date. If this happens, the police informant or the OPP solicitor or VWAS social worker will let you know.
It is a good idea to bring something to read or do while you wait, such as:
- a copy of your statement to police
- a book or magazine
- headphones to listen to music or a podcast.
Feeling safe at court
Under the Victims’ Charter Act 2006 you are entitled to be protected, as far as possible, from unnecessary contact with the accused person and their support people while you are in court.
Some courts have special waiting rooms for witnesses who feel scared or vulnerable when waiting to go into the courtroom.
If you have concerns about being near the accused person or their supporters at court please let the police informant, OPP solicitor or VWAS social worker know.
It may be possible to make arrangements to try and limit contact, as far as possible, with the accused person and their support people inside the court building.
Inside the court room
Courtrooms can feel very formal.
Court staff and barristers usually wear suits or black gowns.
Court staff have particular names which describe their position. For example, the people who help the judge during the court hearing are called the associate and tipstaff. The person who helps the magistrate during the court hearing is called the clerk.
The lawyers who present the case for the prosecution and defence during the hearing are sometimes referred to as counsel.
Sometimes the lawyers will use complex and formal language which might be difficult to understand.
If the accused person is not in custody, be prepared to see them and their family inside and outside the courtroom.
If the accused person is in custody, they will be sitting in the dock, which is usually near the back of the court room.
You are not allowed to talk to the accused person or their lawyer at any time.
If you enter or leave a courtroom, you should bow slightly or nod your head to the magistrate or judge. If the magistrate or judge enters or leaves the courtroom, everyone in court will stand up and bow.
Inside the courtroom you are not allowed to:
- eat or drink or chew gum
- wear a hat or sunglasses
- talk while the judge and jury are present and when a witness is giving evidence
- be disruptive at any time
- use your mobile phone for any reason – it must be turned off
- have anything that could be used as a weapon
- have a tape or voice recorder
- have cameras or video recorders.
If you are watching a court case and you are finding it difficult to be quiet or composed, you can leave at any time. There are areas in the court building where you can go to have a break and Court Network volunteers who can support you.
If you need support, you can ask a security person or a person at the front desk of the court to connect you with a Court Network support person.
For further information about special arrangements for giving evidence see Special arrangements for giving evidence.
These are the main steps if you have to give evidence in a criminal case.
- Waiting outside the court room
You will need to wait outside the court room until you are called to give evidence.
When it is your turn to give evidence, the police informant, a court officer or the OPP solicitor will let you know that it is your turn to give evidence.
If you are giving evidence from a remote witness room, the VWAS social worker will let you know when it is time to give your evidence.
- Entering the courtroom
When you enter the court room you should bow slightly or nod to the magistrate or judge and then walk into the witness box.
- Making a promise to tell the truth
When you are in the witness box, a court officer will ask if you would like to make an oath or an affirmation.
An oath or affirmation is a promise to the court that you will tell the truth when you give your evidence.
- An oath is a religious promise to tell the truth. You will be asked to place your hand on a holy book such as the Bible or Koran. The court usually has the Bible, Koran, and Torah available. It is a good idea to tell the OPP solicitor before the hearing if you would like to make a religious promise, so they can make sure the court has what you will need.
- An affirmation is a promise to tell the truth.
You can choose which type of promise you would like to make. You will need to tell the court officer which type of promise you will make so they can give you the right words to say.
You do not have to remember the words. The court officer will say the words and you will repeat them.
- Answering questions
When you give evidence in court, you will be asked questions by the prosecutor and the defence (the accused person’s lawyer).
- The prosecutor will ask questions first. This is called examination-in-chief.
- Then the defence can ask you questions. This is called cross-examination.
- After the defence has finished, the prosecutor may ask you some further questions. This is called re-examination.
The judge or magistrate may also ask you questions at any time during your evidence.
Tips for answering questions
When you give evidence, your job is to answer the questions truthfully and to the best of your knowledge.
- Listen carefully to the question.
- Make sure you understand what is being asked before you answer the question.
- If you do not understand the question it is important to say so.
- Take your time to think before answering.
- Never try to guess the answer. If you do not know the answer to the question, or you cannot remember, it is important to say so.
- Try to answer clearly and in a loud voice.
- You may be asked the same question more than once.
- You should address the judge or magistrate as Your Honour. If you forget, you can also say sir or madam.
- If you need a break you can ask the judge or magistrate for a break.
- The magistrate or judge will excuse you
When you have finished giving evidence, the magistrate or judge will let you know that you can leave the court room.
Remember to bow slightly or nod to the magistrate or judge as you leave the court room.
- After you have finished giving evidence
You are not allowed to listen to the evidence of other witnesses until you have finished giving all of your evidence.
- If you give evidence at a committal hearing in the Magistrates’ Court you cannot listen to the evidence of other witnesses.
- If you give evidence at a trial in the County Court or Supreme Court, you cannot sit in court and listen to the evidence of other witnesses unless you have finished giving all of your evidence.
If you would like to remain in court after you have finished giving your evidence at trial, you should speak to the OPP solicitor or VWAS social worker.
You are entitled to remain in court at this stage. However in certain types of cases there may be important reasons why the OPP will suggest that you do not remain in court. The prosecutor can talk to you about this.
This video explains what will happen if you have to give evidence at a committal hearing in the Magistrates' Court.
This video explains some of the different ways you can give evidence and the main steps if you give evidence in a trial in the County Court or Supreme Court.
Claiming witness expenses
If you received a summons or subpoena requiring you to go to court to give evidence, you can make a claim to help pay for the cost of going to court.
You can make a claim for expenses such as:
- lost wages (this is a capped amount)
- travel expenses (generally only public transport costs)
- meal allowances
- overnight accommodation (for witnesses who live interstate).
If you have been to the Magistrates’ Court, follow these steps:
- The police informant will give you a witness expense form.
- Complete the form and give it to the police informant. They will arrange for the magistrate to sign it.
- Take the signed form to the cashier’s office at the Magistrates’ Court to receive your payment.
If you have been to the County Court or the Supreme Court, follow these steps:
- You should have received a witness expense claim form with your subpoena. If you have not received a form, please click here.
- Complete the form. If you are claiming lost wages your employer will also need to sign the form or you will need to sign a statutory declaration stating that you have lost wages as a result of having to attend court.
- Give your completed form to the OPP solicitor or police informant. Or post the form to:
Office of Public Prosecutions
565 Lonsdale Street
- In most cases, you will be paid by direct credit to a nominated bank account.
Making a Victim Impact Statement
If the accused person is found guilty or pleads guilty to the crime, you can make a Victim Impact Statement (VIS) telling the court about the impact of the crime on you.
The VIS is one of the things that the court will consider when deciding what sentence the offender should receive.
You can make a VIS if you are a victim of a crime. A victim is a person who suffers any of these things as a result of a crime:
- loss or damage
- other significant adverse effects.
This means that a victim can be:
- the person who was directly affected by the crime
- family members (and in some cases friends) of the person who was directly affected by the crime
- other people who witnessed the crime.
You can choose whether or not to make a VIS. You can also choose how the VIS is presented to the court at the plea hearing.
- You can read your VIS aloud at the plea hearing.
- The prosecutor or another person can read your VIS aloud at the plea hearing.
- The prosecutor can hand your VIS to the judge without reading it aloud.
There are rules about what you can include in your VIS. Your VIS should only be about how the crime has affected you.
If you include other types of information, some or all of your VIS might be inadmissible. This means that the judge is not allowed to consider the information in your VIS when deciding on the sentence.
Your OPP solicitor or VWAS social worker can:
- provide you with general information about making a VIS and the types of information that would be inadmissible
- refer you a victims’ services agency that can assist you to make your VIS.
Further information about how to make a VIS is available on the Victims of Crime website.
Media and criminal cases
Dealing with the media can be challenging for victims, witnesses and their families. You might be approached by the media at court, at home or by telephone.
If you are approached by the media
If a media representative approaches you, you have the right to privacy and you can decline to speak with them. If a media representative shows up at your house, you can ask them to leave your property.
If you are approached by the media while the criminal case is before the court, you should not say anything about the case until you have spoken with the OPP solicitor or social worker. This is important because:
- There are laws about what information can and cannot be published while a criminal case is before the court.
- In some cases, the court will make a suppression order. A suppression order prohibits the publication of certain information about a criminal case.
- You may not be able to predict the types of questions you may be asked by the media, or control how your comments are reported. Once you have provided information to the media, your control over the use of that information is limited.
The OPP cannot provide legal advice to victims, witnesses or their families. However, it is important to be aware that publishing information on social media about a criminal case could (depending on the type of information and the circumstances):
- compromise the case
- breach a suppression order
- breach a law
- amount to contempt of court.
Victims of sexual offences
The media are not allowed to publish information that might identify a victim of a sexual offence unless:
- the victim has given permission to the media
- the court has made an order giving permission.
A victim of a sexual offence is allowed to publish information that identifies them as a victim of a sexual offence unless this is likely to identify another victim of a sexual offence who does not give permission for their identity to be published.
The courts have published guides for people seeking permission to publish information identifying victims of sexual offences. You can find them here:
Making a complaint about the media
If you believe the media or a journalist has acted unprofessionally or inappropriately you can lodge a formal complaint with:
Criminal justice visas
This information is for witnesses and victims who:
- are required to give evidence in a criminal case in Victoria, and
- do not have a valid visa to enter or remain in Australia for that purpose.
Criminal justice visas
There are two types of criminal justice visa:
- a criminal justice entry visa allows you to enter and remain in Australia for the purpose of giving evidence in a criminal case
- a criminal justice stay visa allows you to remain in Australia for the purpose of giving evidence in a criminal case.
After you have finished giving evidence, your criminal justice visa will be cancelled, and you must leave Australia.
If you have to give evidence in a criminal case the OPP may apply for a criminal justice visa
The OPP will only consider applying for a criminal justice visa if a victim or witness is required to give evidence in a criminal case in Victoria.
There are three steps in the application process.
- The OPP solicitor may ask you to provide information such as your passport details and other personal information.
- The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) will decide whether to issue a certificate.
There are two types of certificate:
- criminal justice entry certificate
- criminal justice stay certificate.
If you are in Australia, the DPP cannot issue a criminal justice stay certificate until your current visa has expired.
If the DPP issues a certificate, it will confirm that:
- you are required for the purpose of the administration of criminal justice
- if needed, the OPP will cover your basic expenses while you are in Australia for the purpose of giving evidence
- for criminal justice stay certificates – you will be or are likely to be removed or deported without the certificate because you are in Australia without a valid visa.
If the DPP issues a certificate, the OPP will apply to the Department of Home Affairs for a criminal justice visa.
- The Department of Home Affairs will decide whether to grant a criminal justice visa.
The OPP will let you know as soon as a decision is made.
The Department of Home Affairs does not approve all criminal justice visa requests. They may refuse to grant you a visa for different reasons. For example, if there are concerns about threats to public safety, or if there is a risk that you might not meet visa exit requirements.
If the Department of Home Affairs does not grant a criminal justice visa
If you are refused a criminal justice stay visa, your presence in Australia becomes unlawful. The criminal justice stay certificate will prevent you being removed or deported from Australia, but you may be taken into immigration detention.
If you are refused a criminal justice entry visa, you will not be able to come to Australia to give your evidence. If this happens, the OPP will contact you to discuss ways to give evidence remotely.
If the Department of Home Affairs grants a criminal justice visa
Working in Australia
You are entitled to work if you remain in Australia on a criminal justice stay visa.
You are not entitled to work if you enter Australia on a criminal justice entry visa.
If you require financial support while you are in Australian on a criminal justice visa you will need to provide information about your circumstances to the OPP. Contact the OPP to request a form. The level of financial assistance provided will depend on your financial situation.
When the OPP issues a criminal justice certificate the OPP guarantees to:
- provide financial assistance if you require it, based on the basic social welfare payments to which you would be entitled if you were an Australian citizen
- arrange for your return home if you are subject to a criminal justice entry certificate.
The OPP may also pay the reasonable costs of managing any medical or dental conditions.
When will my visa expire?
After you have given evidence in the criminal case:
- the OPP will cancel the criminal justice certificate
- the Department of Home Affairs will cancel the criminal justice visa.
This means you must leave Australia. Any time spent in Australia following the cancellation becomes unlawful.
Legal words explained
You can find an explanation of some common legal words here Legal words explained.