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Criminal & traffic law

The trial

Evidence and witnesses

Why is evidence given?

Evidence is given by the prosecution and the defence to establish whether you are guilty of the crime you have been charged with. It is the prosecutor’s role to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you are guilty.

Who gives evidence?

Evidence is given by witnesses to the crime and sometimes by experts who can provide information about aspects of the case (for example, a doctor or psychologist).

Witnesses provide information about what happened or about some other aspect of the case. They give evidence as witnesses either for the prosecution or for the defence.

Is giving evidence optional?

Criminal Procedure Act 2011, ss 159, 161

Usually if you’re asked to give evidence you don’t have a choice. If the prosecution or defence thinks that your evidence is essential, they can ask the court to summon you to be at the trial. A witness summons is a document signed by the court registrar ordering a witness to come to court on a set date. This means you have to come to court and give evidence. If you don’t, it’s a criminal offence, punishable by a $1,000 fine if you don’t have a reasonable excuse, and the court can also issue a warrant for you to be arrested and brought to court.

Even when you haven’t already been issued with a witness summons, the court can issue a warrant for your arrest if it decides that your evidence is necessary and you won’t come to court to be a witness unless you’re made to do so.

Evidence Act 2006, s 71

Note: A spouse of a defendant must give evidence if asked. Spousal immunity from giving evidence was abolished by the Evidence Act 2006.

Do I have to give to evidence when I am the defendant?

Evidence Act 2006, s 73(1)

No. The defendant does not have to give evidence. Usually you will consult with your lawyer before deciding whether or not to give evidence. It’s your choice.

What is the process for giving evidence?

Each side calls witnesses to give their version of events. The prosecution calls it’s witnesses first, and then the defence puts its case after. There are three stages in giving evidence and there are rules on the types of questions that may be asked:

  • Examination-in-chief – This is when the lawyer for one side calls their witnesses and asks them questions in court to support their case. These questions must be open-ended so that they must not suggest the answer.
  • Cross-examination – This is when the lawyer for the opposing side asks those same witnesses questions in court to challenge the other side’s case. These questions can be more closed or “leading” that is, those needing only a yes or no answer. For example, “you were drunk, weren’t you?”
  • Re-examination – This is when the lawyer who carried out the examination-in-chief gets a chance to question their own witnesses again to clarify points arising out of the cross-examination. Again, these must be open-ended questions that do not suggest an answer.
Next Section | Trial process

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The criminal courts

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Ministry of Justice


The Ministry of Justice website has a range of pamphlets and other information on topics covered in this chapter. You can access this information online, or you can order hardcopies of the pamphlets from:

Phone: 0800 587 847
Email: publications@justice.govt.nz


Ministry of Justice Collections Unit – www.justice.govt.nz/fines

Phone: 0800 4 FINES (0800 434 637)
From overseas: +64 4 915 8586
From Australia: 1800 144 239 (toll free)

You can check or pay your fines by phone or online. The website has information about both infringement fines and court-imposed fines, and about reparations. The website also has information about District Court Collections Units.

Department of Internal Affairs – www.passports.govt.nz/what-you-need-to-renew-or-apply-for-a-passport/before-you-travel/

This webpage has information about paying your fines to avoid being stopped at the border.

Phone: 0800 PAYORSTAY (0800 729 677)

“Giving evidence” (Law Society pamphlet)


This pamphlet is for people who have to give evidence in court as a witness.

You can order hardcopies from the New Zealand Law Society:

Phone: (04) 472 7837
Email: pamphlets@lawsociety.org.nz

Department of Corrections


This website has information:

for offenders

for family and friends of offenders

about the Department of Corrections’ role in the community, including community work, supervision, home detention, and the role of probation officers

about the New Zealand Parole Board.

Victim Notification Register


This page on the Department of Corrections website has information about the victim notification register including, the process, how to apply, information victims can receive and how to make a complaint.

Restorative Practices Aotearoa


This website provides information on when Restorative Justice may be appropriate, and where in New Zealand Restorative Justice is available. You can also make an enquiry about Restorative Justice by filling out a form on their website.

Phone: 0800 RJA INC (0800 752 462)

Victim Support


Victim Support provides 24-hour support services to help New Zealanders rebuild their lives following a trauma or crisis.

Phone: 0800 842 846
Email: nationaloffice@victimsupport.org.nz

Victims Information


This is the website of the government’s “Victims Centre”. The site provides links to a range of services available to help victims deal with the practical and emotional effects of the crime, at each stage of the criminal and youth justice process.

Phone: 0800 650 654

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