A witness is a person who has information that is relevant to the investigation. A witness may be asked to give this information to police verbally, so it can be recorded in affidavit form for the coronial record. A witness may also be called to give evidence at inquest. They may be a professional, a relative of the deceased person or anyone else who can provide relevant information about how the incident occurred.
Interested persons and their representatives may call witnesses but only the coroner has the power to summons them (and compel them to come to court). If you would like a person to give evidence at inquest, write to the coroners’ office and explain who the witness is, what they will say and why their evidence will contribute to the fact-finding capacity of the coroner at inquest. Please specify if you are seeking that the coroner use their power to summons the witness. If you intend on calling a witness to appear yourself, you should also notify the coroners’ office of this.
If you are summonsed as a witness to appear at an inquest and you want further information on what will happen, please refer to A Guide for Families and Friends: The coroner’s court and me – I’m a witness at the inquest, what does this mean?.
If your client is summonsed to appear in court, you can assist them to make a claim for expenses by filing a Witness Expenses Form, which you can find on the Magistrates Court web site, under Forms.
If your client requires non-legal assistance in court, please refer to A Guide for Families and Friends: Who can help? for help arranging interpreters, assistance for the hearing impaired and other support services. If your client is a person giving evidence and they have a disability or complex communication needs, please refer to the relevant sections below.
Unable to attend court proceedings?
If you or your client are located interstate, overseas or are otherwise unable to attend court proceedings for reason of your location or medical situation, you may be able to arrange to appear via telephone conference or video link. If this is the case, please contact the coroner’s court and fill out an Audio Link Bookings or Video Link Bookings Form if required. These are available on the Magistrates Court web site, under Forms. There will be a fee involved. All telephone conferences and video links are arranged at the coroner’s discretion.
Witnesses with disability
People with disability have a right to equal access to justice and are entitled to be heard; they should be given every opportunity to speak for themselves. Many people with disability are fully capable and competent in the giving of evidence. A person with disability may give evidence in coronial proceedings as long as they can understand a question about a fact and provide an answer in a format that can be understood.
A person with disability may be assisted to give their evidence in various ways.
- the use of a professional communication assistant
- the use of a support person (such as a family member or friend)
- the use of appropriate questioning techniques (refer to the link provided below)
- the use of an interpreter (for example, for Auslan)
- establishing ‘ground rules’ for the types of questions that will be asked and the way that questions will be asked and answered
- any other assistance that the coroner believes is necessary.
Case management conferences are an ideal meeting in which to raise any concerns you may have and to ask about options for communication assistance with coroners and their staff. Because the rules of evidence do not apply in coronial proceedings, the coroner’s court is able to be more flexible in accommodating people with diverse needs. If there is something specific which can be done to accommodate the needs of a person, please inform court staff. All reasonable efforts will be made to accommodate requests and to facilitate equality of outcomes.
For more information on this topic, such as questioning techniques to facilitate the giving of evidence by people with disability, please refer to: The Advocates Gateway, The Council of the Inns of Court, Responding to Communication Needs in the Justice System (as at 22 August 2016).
Witnesses with complex communication needs
Many people have complex communication needs, including some people with disability. Other people who may have complex communication needs include children, people whose first language is not English, Aboriginal people and people with a mental illness. Any of the measures listed under ‘witnesses with disability’ can be put in place to assist people with complex communication needs to give their evidence, if appropriate.
The coroner’s court can be flexible with court arrangements and many aspects of proceedings can be adjusted to enable equal access to justice for all people. If your client is a person with complex communication needs and is required to give evidence in court, please contact coroner’s court staff for assistance.