Should I give a witness statement?

swearing an oath as a witness

If you have been asked by the police to make a statement as a witness, it is important to understand what the implications may be.

What is a witness?

A witness is a person who has information which may be useful in a case being heard in a Court. This information is called evidence. Giving evidence is called testifying.

As a witness, you will be asked to tell the court to your best recollection, what you observed or heard at the time when the alleged offence took place. This is called being a ‘witness of fact’.

The evidence that is given by a “witness of fact” must be confined to what they actually saw or heard at the time and must not include any conclusions formed after the event.

If you have been asked to be a witness because of your specialist knowledge, this is called being an ‘expert witness’.

Do I have to be a witness?

The general public is encouraged to cooperate with the Police in matters of law enforcement and in most cases providing a witness statement to assist the Police will not be a problem.

However, if you feel that making a witness statement might implicate you in relation to the crime in question or any other crime then you should always consult a lawyer for advice.

It is important if you decide to be a witness, that you tell the truth at all times. If your statement is untruthful you may be charged with giving false evidence to the Police.

If you say something in court which is inconsistent with your witness statement, the Crown may make an application to declare you an “unfriendly witness” and you may then face cross-examination from the Police Prosecutor or the Crown.

What if I change my mind?

It is not unknown for a witness to an offence to make a statement to a police officer and for the statement to subsequently come back to revisit them at a later date.

You may think that although you were involved in some way with the activity being investigated, you were just an innocent bystander and that somebody else is the guilty party.

However, your witness statement may implicate you as an accessory to the matter and may result in you being charged alongside the party being investigated.

If you decide to withdraw your statement at a later date, the Police may still choose to subpoena you to give evidence as an “unfriendly witness”. This may happen if the Police case is in danger of collapsing without your witness statement.

If you have received a subpoena to appear as a witness, you must attend court on the day of the hearing. Failure to attend court is a criminal offence and a warrant may be issued for your arrest or you may be charged with contempt of court.

Do I need a lawyer to be a witness?

You do not need to be represented by a lawyer to give a witness statement, however, if you have questions about what you should or shouldn’t do or concerns about giving evidence in court you may decide to get some legal advice.

If the Police are conducting an investigation and you are a possible suspect you should always seek legal advice prior to giving any statements.