As a witness in a criminal trial you are asked to give testimony about information that you have and that is useful for the trial. If you are called as a witness, you have to respond to that invitation and answer questions before the court.

When you are called to testify as a witness, it is mandatory by law to appear at the time and date when you are invited. You are obliged to honestly and truthfully answer all questions that are put to you. 

There are two exceptions where you can refuse to answer questions:

  1. you can refuse to testify against yourself and your family members
  2. you can refuse to reveal information that is protected as your professional secret. This is only where you are a member of the clergy, a defence lawyer, health care professional or an interpreter 

If, because of your testimony, the safety of you or your family members are in danger, the State is obliged to protect you.

Human rights in criminal proceedings

If you are only testifying as a witness in criminal proceedings, not as a victim or an accused, the outcome of the case does not directly affect you. This means that although you are present at the trial to testify, you are not considered a participant in the criminal proceedings. Therefore, the right to a fair trial does not apply to you. 

However, the State still has to protect your life and health, your private and family life and other rights that may be affected by the fact that you are helping to solve a crime. 

Therefore, taking part in criminal proceedings can affect your human rights. For example:

  • the right to your private and family life
  • the right not to incriminate yourself
  • your right to life or the prohibition of inhuman treatment, in the case of any real danger

example If you are forced to answer questions incriminating your spouse, it may violate your right to family life. Or, if you are a witness and there is a real danger to your life due to your testimony, a failure to protect you may lead to a violation of the right to life.

Read more about your rights and duties as a witness and how to complain where you think your rights have been violated.

Last updated 26/04/2017