A prosecution is not a private case – it is a criminal case in which the Crown or State charges the offender (referred to as the ‘accused’ or ‘defendant’). Therefore, the survivor is considered as a witness to the crime. It is the prosecuting lawyer’s job to prove to the jury that the offender is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Trials usually take between three to four days, depending on what happened and how long it takes to give all the evidence. Some trials that are more complex with multiple victims or offenders can take longer. You do not need to attend the entire trial; survivors tend to be the first witnesses called to give evidence.
Your job will be to tell your story by truthfully and thoroughly answering the questions put to you by the prosecuting lawyer and the defence lawyer. This is referred to as ‘giving evidence’ or ‘testifying’.
Your name will not be released to the public or to the media. You will be covered by ‘name suppression’ which is ordered by the Judge. Sometimes a reporter will attend the trial, but they are prohibited from identifying you in any way. The courtroom is a ‘closed court’ while you testify, meaning only jury, court personnel, the officer in charge of the case and the offender will be present. While waiting to testify, you can sit in a private witness room with your support people. You are normally allowed to have one support person in court with you when you give your evidence, however, you must inform the officer in charge of the case of who this person is prior to the trial.
Some things to consider to make the court process a a little easier…
Offender screen or mode of evidence application
You can ask to have a screen to conceal the offender while you are giving evidence, or ask for a closed circuit television system to be used. These requests must be discussed with the officer in charge of the case when it goes to a pre-trial hearing, as it is up to the judge to make a ruling. The crown prosecutor might ask you to have an assessment with a psychologist to support the application. Children often give their evidence using a closed circuit television from a room near the courtroom, but it is less often allowed for adults.
Support person in court
You are entitled to have a support person in the court room. Who will be most appropriate to have there with you can be explored with a HELP Court support counsellor, the police or crown prosecutor. It is important that you feel confident and comfortable with this person. The support person’s role is to sit behind you when you are giving your evidence in court. They cannot interact with you once the judge has arrived in the court room. There is a lot of waiting time at court and your support person will be able to be with you during this time and in the breaks from giving evidence. During this time they can help you to process your emotions around what is happening in the court room.