Almost 100 000 people give testimony at court each year. People give testimony to help the court to make the right judgment, not to get at or protect someone. The court only wants you to come and explain what you know. What you know may be important and of great relevance for the court's decision.
Many people who give testimony feel some anxiety prior to visiting the court. This generally passes over during the questioning.
If you are afraid of anyone, for example the person charged in a criminal case (the accused), or if for some other reason you find it particularly difficult to appear as a witness when a particular person is present, you should contact the court in good time before the trial. The court can decide that the person that you are frightened of may not be present during the questioning.
It is a public duty to give testimony. It is important that you arrive in good time and at the right place, not only so that the court can make the right judgment, but also because a hearing costs the community a lot of money. If you do not attend, the trial might have to be postponed. However, this does not mean that it will not take place, but that you and all the other parties affected will be given notice to attend on another date.
You may be liable to pay a default fine or risk being collected by the police if you do not attend. You may even have to pay the costs of others who have attended the court.
If it is difficult for you to attend, you should call or write to the court immediately to give it notice. Valid excuses include:
- disruption to public modes of communication
- sudden illness (notify the district court if you are ill; a physician’s certificate is always required)
- some other impeding circumstance that could not have been foreseen.
Work or holiday is not considered to be valid excuse.
The notice to attend applies until such time as the court decides otherwise. It is a good idea to bring the notice to attend to the court.
You should sign and return the acknowledgement letter accompanying the notice to confirm for the court that you have received the notice to attend the trial. At court, this is known as 'service'.
What will happen?
You must not report to the reception when you arrive at court. At some courts, there is a special waiting room for the aggrieved party and witnesses where you can wait, if you do not want to wait in the main waiting room. You can ask at the court's reception, where they will be able to tell you where the waiting room is located.
You will wait outside the courtroom until you are called, and then it will be your turn to give testimony. You must wait outside so that you will be able to make your statement without being affected by what has been said previously in the courtroom. Before you give testimony, you would normally swear the following oath:
"Jag (ditt namn) lovar och försäkrar på heder och samvete, att jag skall säga hela sanningen och intet förtiga, tillägga eller förändra." ("I (your name) promise and affirm on my honour and faith that I will tell the whole truth and not omit, add or change anything.")
The chairperson of the court will read out the oath and you must repeat it. The parties and the court can then ask you questions. It is of course important that you tell the truth. A person who gives testimony under oath and does not tell the truth can be punished for perjury.
The way in which you make your statement and how you express yourself is not very important. The people you meet in the court understand how it can feel to give testimony for the first time. The main thing is that what you say is true and that you really say everything that you know.
As a witness, you are entitled to compensation for travelling to the court. This also applies to any expenses for accommodation and lost income from work. However, there are limits regarding compensation for travel and other matters, in particular when compensation is to be paid from public funds.
If you receive compensation from public funds, the notice to attend will state what compensation rules apply. Read it carefully before you decide how you should travel. The notice to attend will also explain the possibilities of requesting an advance payment.
If something is unclear regarding compensation or if there is something else that you are wondering about, it is possible to call the court and ask. The court’s telephone number and address can be found on the notice to attend.
Witness questioning by telephone or video
In certain cases, the court can decide that a witness may be questioned by telephone instead of by attending in person.
If you are going to participate in a trial by telephone, you may normally use the telephone at home or at your workplace.
Everyone who attends at the courtroom will be able to listen to the telephone call with you and it is also possible then to speak to you. Any audience at the court can also listen to the call with you via a loudspeaker in the premises.
At some courts it is possible to give testimony by means of a video conference. It is the court that decides in which cases this can be allowed.
You may sometimes be allowed to give testimony by telephone at some authority in the district where you live, for example at the police station. You should then be prepared to verify your identity with, for example, a driving licence or passport. The court will call you when it is time for the trial or questioning.
Witness support is available at most courts and they will be able to assist you when you attend the court for a trial. A witness support person is a person working on a not-for-profit basis who assists witnesses and victims of crime with humanitarian support and practical information in conjunction with a criminal trial. A witness support person wears a badge with the text 'Vittnesstöd' ('Witness Support') and has sworn a moral promise of confidentiality.
The witness support person will primarily be a fellow human being but can also explain how the criminal procedure is handled. They can also provide information about compensation and practical matters, such as the location of the cloakroom and toilet. The witness support person can also refer witnesses and victims of crime to other people and bodies that may also be able to provide support.