- To show respect to the court, you should be smartly dressed – but nothing too flashy!
- Make sure you know which court building and which courtroom you are attending – the court fixture list for the following day is released online by the judiciary at 6:00 pm every evening.
- Make sure you arrive at court well before the start of the trial or hearing – at least half an hour beforehand.
- When you arrive at court:
- Criminal cases: (1) Prosecution witness: Report to the prosecutor or his/her assistant, give them your name and show them your HKID card and witness summons (2) Defence witness: Report to the legal team for the defendant. The lawyers will normally inform you beforehand where you need-to be and what time to be there – if they don’t, ask them! If, when you arrive at court, you are not sure in which courtroom your case is being heard, you should go to the enquiry counter in the court building for assistance.
- Civil cases: Report to the legal team for the party on whose behalf you are giving evidence. The lawyers will normally inform you beforehand where you need to be and what time to be there – if they don’t, ask them. If, when you arrive at court, you are not sure in which courtroom your case is being heard, you should go to the enquiry counter in the court building for assistance.
- While you are waiting to be called to testify, you should not talk to anyone about the evidence you will be giving. Do not leave the court building until you are told that you are no longer needed. If you have an important reason to leave early, make sure you tell the prosecutor, or the legal team concerned. It may be possible for you to give evidence out-of-turn.
- Some cases are delayed or even put off until another day. This may be because an earlier case has gone on longer than expected or an important witness in the case has not arrived. Sometimes a defendant pleads guilty on the day of a criminal trial, so witnesses are told at the last minute that their evidence is not needed. You may therefore find that you need to wait for an extended period before you are required.
- As you are called into the courtroom, you will be shown to the witness box by the court clerk, who will ask you whether you wish to take the oath or to affirm. To take the oath, is to swear to tell the truth on the Bible. To affirm, is to solemnly promise to tell the truth.
- As a witness, you will first be asked questions by the advocate (a barrister or solicitor advocate) for the party on whose behalf you are giving evidence (examination-in-chief) when you will usually be taken through your witness statement and any relevant documents. The advocate for the other party will then ask you some questions (cross-examination). If there are multiple parties in the case represented by multiple advocates, all of them can ask you questions in turn. When the cross-examination has finished, the advocate for the party on whose behalf you are giving evidence may ask you a few more questions (re-examination). The Magistrate or Judge may also ask you questions at any stage.
- Chinese and English are the predominant languages used in the Courts. You should usually give evidence in the language in which you feel most comfortable to give evidence (usually, your ‘mother tongue’). Interpreters will be provided by the Court if you are not familiar with either Chinese or English, or if the advocate is asking questions in a language other than your chosen language.
- Prior to the court hearing, make sure that you familiarize yourself with your witness statement and any relevant documents which should have been given to you. If any documents are referred to in your witness statement, make sure that the lawyers for the party for whom you are giving evidence have given you copies. Most of the questions you will be asked will be derived from your witness statement. It is not necessary however to memorise or recollect each individual detail, you can refer to documents when needed.
- During the period in which you are giving evidence from the witness box (including during any short or overnight break (adjournment), you must not discuss the case or your evidence with anyone, including with the legal team for the party on whose behalf you are giving evidence. The Magistrate or Judge will usually remind you of this rule immediately before any break in the giving of your evidence. If you break this rule, you will be in contempt of court, which is a serious offence.
- After you have finished giving evidence you may be told that you are released. This means that you are free to leave the court, but you can stay and listen to the rest of the case if you want to. You must not discuss your evidence with another witness who has not yet given his/her evidence. Sometimes you might have to stay after you have given evidence. This usually only happens when something new has come up whilst you are giving evidence.
- Remember that it is an offence for anyone to threaten you or, try to persuade you to change your evidence or to give false / untrue evidence. If at any stage you are approached and asked to do so by anyone, you should immediately report the matter to the legal team for the party on whose behalf you are giving evidence, the prosecution, and/or the HK Police.
During questioning, remember:
- it is important for you to be honest and give direct truthful answers
- do not be obstructive or evasive
- do not volunteer unnecessary information
- listen very carefully to each question and make sure you understand what you are being asked. If you don’t understand a question, ask for clarification
- giving evidence is not a memory test – if you do not remember something, do not be afraid to say “I don’t remember”
- if it is a yes or no question, answer with yes or no – do not try to get ahead of yourself by anticipating what the next question will be
- “yes”, “no“, “I don’t know” and “I don’t remember” are all good answers…if they are true
- do not try to make anything up – answer the questions directly and look regularly at the Judge (in a civil case) when answering questions put to you by any of the advocates or the Judge because the only person in the Court who needs to believe and be convinced by your answers is the Judge and also, so that you are not easily distracted by anyone else in the Court
- allow yourself sufficient time to think before you answer the question
- do not use complicated sentences or phraseology to avoid miscommunication or misunderstanding
- do not be afraid to ask for questions to be repeated if you do not understand the question, or cannot hear clearly
- do not be afraid to say that something is someone else’s responsibility, and that they should be better placed to answer the question
- if the advocate’s questions become distressing, do not get aggravated or argumentative, and remember to keep calm. If you need time to compose yourself, you can ask the Magistrate or Judge for a short break, but you should avoid repeated requests of this kind
- if the advocate’s question refers to a document or part of a document, you should ask him/her to direct you to the document (which should be in the paginated hearing bundle – hard or soft copy), so that you can read it carefully and refresh your memory before answering the question
- it is okay to say so if you are unsure of an answer
- if the Magistrate or Judge asks you a question, you should direct your answer to him/her, not to the advocate. Questions from the Magistrate or Judge should be answered particularly carefully because they are asking about an issue in which they are particularly interested
- stay in control. If you feel upset, angry or unwell, ask for a short break to compose yourself. Keep in control and do not lose your temper!
- when being cross-examined, most questions will be in leading form – “Do you agree that…” or “I put it to you that…”. The immediate answer is simple – “I agree”, or “I disagree”, or “I don’t know”, or “I can’t remember”
- speak clearly and confidently – no mumbling!
- guess or speculate if you don’t know an answer
- hesitate to ask to see a document if you need to refresh your memory about something
- be a “clever-clogs” or a “smart alec”
- make jokes or light-hearted / flippant comments (they read terribly in a transcript)
- argue with the barrister or the Magistrate or Judge
- try to score forensic points
Body language is important:
- sit comfortably without slouching
- regularly look at the Magistrate or Judge and catch his/her eye – a truthful person is not shy of eye contact
- do not look down onto the floor and mumble your answers
- do look at people and give an appearance of self-confidence
- don’t fiddle with a pen, glasses…or anything else!