It is fair to say that (lawyers, Judges and bar officers aside) it is probably a good reflection on your life if you are not too familiar with the inside of court room.
Being called to be a witness can be a daunting prospect, but there are things that you can do to help you prepare:
Who is calling you to be a witness?
If you are being asked to act as a witness voluntarily, the chances are that you will have a good channel of communication with the person (usually a lawyer) who is calling on you to appear. They are likely to obtain a statement from you in advance that will give them an idea of the extent of your evidence. It will also give you an indication of the type of questions you are likely to be asked in the witness box.
If you are being compelled to be a witness and are less happy to be so, it is still important that you attend court to give your evidence. Most courts or tribunals have procedures which they can use to ensure you attend.
Whichever scenario you are in, you should speak to the person citing you if you have any questions as to location or procedure.
Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the…
Yes, it really is that straightforward. It is imperative that you answer any questions put to you in a way which is honest to the best of your knowledge and belief. You will be asked to either affirm or swear an oath prior to giving your evidence.
Questions will usually be put to you by the person who called you and then by a lawyer on the other side of the case. The decision maker may interrupt at any time. The decision maker (usually a Judge or Sheriff) is looking to gather information and to make an assessment of the reliability and credibility of witnesses. They are not there to try to catch you out. If you are not sure about something, or simply do not know the answer to a question, you should say that.
If any documents are going to be referred to, you will be shown these at court. You do not need to (and should not) take any papers with you.
Find out about logistics
Make sure you know where the court building is (or that you have received a weblink, if the hearing is taking place online). Try to find out what time you will be needed and be prepared for this to change – court hearings can be something of a moving target, so you will need to be flexible.
You can seek reimbursement for loss of earnings, travel and subsistence.
Dress smartly (this is a serious forum) and make sure you address the decision maker correctly. If in doubt, ask the person citing you.
Giving evidence can sometimes take a long time and it can also be tiring. Judges are human. It is generally frowned upon to obtain evidence from a witness who has fainted, so if you need a rest or a drink of water, ask for one.
Discussing your evidence
It is really important that the evidence you provide is your evidence. If the court adjourns part way through your evidence, you should not discuss your evidence with anybody else. Once you have finished giving evidence, you should not discuss it with any of the other witnesses who have not yet been called.
This is definitely not a part of your day to be talking about on your social media account. If you are tempted to Tweet about it or Snapchat it – don't.
Giving evidence as a witness is a serious matter and should be treated with the requisite gravity. However, there is support and advice available. Witnesses to criminal matters can access help through Victim Support. Civil witnesses should maintain good communication with the person calling on them to appear. Whilst being a witness may lack the glamour and excitement so often depicted on the big screen, it can still be an interesting experience and may well make a significant difference to a case.