Subpoenaed to be a Court Witness in Singapore: What You Need to Do
If you have been subpoenaed to be a witness in court and want to know more about your responsibilities as a court witness, read on.
What is a Subpoena?
A subpoena is a legal document requiring you to attend court, at an appointed date and time, to give evidence in a case as a witness.
When Would I Receive a Subpoena and From Whom Will I Receive It?
You may receive a subpoena if a litigant (party to a case) in a court case believes that you may have information that is relevant to their case and that the court ought to hear.
A subpoena is applied for by one of the parties to a court case, or their lawyers, but is issued by the court.
What Should I Do When I Receive a Subpoena?
If you receive a subpoena, you cannot ignore it – you must attend court and answer any questions put to you.
If you do not attend court on the appointed date and time, you will be in contempt of court, which is a criminal offence.
A warrant of arrest may be issued for you and you may be imprisoned for contempt of court. Therefore, it is in your interests to comply with the subpoena and attend court.
What Happens If I Cannot Attend Court on the Stipulated Date and Time of the Subpoena?
Court cases are held during working hours so, if you are working, you will need to take a day off work. If you have any difficulty in getting time off work, provide your employer with a copy of the subpoena and explain that you have no choice but to comply.
If you are ill on the day you are to attend court, an ordinary medical certificate from a doctor will not suffice to excuse your presence in court. You will require a special medical certificate that explicitly excuses you from court attendance.
If you are so ill that you are unable to attend court, you should contact the party that subpoenaed you as their witness as soon as possible so that they can explain your absence to the court and adjourn (i.e. postpone) the hearing to another day.
Preparing for My Attendance in Court
Must I meet the party who subpoenaed me prior to the court date?
The party subpoenaing you as a witness is likely to want to meet up with you before your court date to prepare you for the day and find out what information you have.
You are not required to meet them, but it may be wise to do so as you will then be able to find out what you can expect on the day and what information or knowledge you may need to refresh your memory on in the meantime.
Can I speak in a different language other than English?
All court proceedings in Singapore are conducted in English.
If you are not comfortable speaking publicly and fluently in English, you should inform the party that subpoenaed you immediately so that they can make advance arrangements for an interpreter to be present on the day to interpret for you.
What happens if I am asked to provide false information during the hearing?
If you are asked by anyone to lie or make up facts during your testimony, you should refuse. You can also file a police report about this if you wish, as asking someone to lie under oath is against the law.
As a witness, your duty is to the court, not to the party that is calling you as a witness or to anyone else. Your only duty is to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
What If I do not wish to reveal my identity?
If you are afraid to give evidence because of potential repercussions against you (e.g. if you are being threatened), you should inform the party that subpoenaed you.
Share with them what your specific fears are and ask them to apply to court in advance for your evidence to be given in camera (i.e. in a closed courtroom that is not open to the public) and for your identity to be kept secret.
If the party that subpoenaed you is uncooperative, you can inform a court officer in the relevant courtroom on the day of your fears and that you need to speak to the judge in chambers (i.e. in the judge’s private office), with both parties present, before the proceedings begin for the day.
In chambers, you should share your concerns with the judge and ask him to order that your evidence be given in camera and that your identity be kept secret. You should also make a police report if someone has actually threatened you.
If all this seems too intimidating, you can contact a lawyer of your own to seek legal advice and to represent your interests at the hearing.
You should understand that none of the lawyers who are involved in the case, including the lawyer acting for the party that subpoenaed you, have any duty to act in your interest or to advise you. They are only looking out for their own clients.
Am I Entitled to Receive Expenses and What are They?
You are entitled to certain expenses when you are subpoenaed as a witness.
What expenses and how you claim for them depends on whether you are called to be a witness in a criminal or civil case.
For civil court cases
If it is a civil case, the law does not spell out in detail the kind of expenses which you are entitled to.
Rather, under Order 38 rule 22 of the Rules of Court, you are entitled to “a reasonable sum to cover his expenses of going to, remaining at, and returning from, court”.
You can ask for reasonable transport and lunch expenses and compensation of any lost salary as a result of you taking time off work.
You should also demand that the party subpoenaing you as a witness pay these expenses to you before the date you are expected to appear in court as a witness, instead of only after.
For criminal court cases
If it is a criminal case, under the Criminal Procedure Code (Witnesses’ Allowances) Regulations you are entitled to up to $20 per day for transport expenses as well as one fiftieth of your monthly salary for each half-day you are required to spend in court, up to a maximum of $350 per half day.
If you live outside Singapore and have to travel specially to Singapore to appear in court, you will also be entitled to the cost of travelling to and accommodation in Singapore up to certain limits.
Unlike in civil cases, you have to apply to court yourself after the case for the reimbursement of these expenses, enclosing receipts and proof of your salary. You may wish to ask the party calling you as a witness to make this application for you but they are under no obligation to do so.
How should I dress?
On the day you are to attend court you should dress smartly, in business attire. Do not wear shorts, singlets or slippers as you may be denied entry to the courthouse.
What is the process of giving evidence in court?
Examination-in-chief by the party who called you as a witness
When you are called to the stand in the witness box, you will have to swear an oath (if you are a Christian) or give an affirmation (if you are not a Christian) that you will tell the truth.
You will then most likely be asked some preliminary questions by the party that called you as a witness. This is called the examination-in-chief. If you met up with them in advance you should know what kind of questions to expect.
When giving evidence
Answer them truthfully and speak slowly and clearly into the microphone. If you do not understand a question, you can ask the questioner to repeat, rephrase it or speak more slowly.
It is generally advisable only to give information that you are sure about and to avoid speculating or guessing answers. If you are not sure or can’t remember, just say so.
Cross-examination by the opposing party
After the examination-in-chief, you will be cross-examined by the other party or its lawyer.
This can often be a gruelling experience as the questioner is often trying to get you to contradict the answers you had given during the examination-in-chief. They may even suggest you are lying or confused.
You should remain calm throughout and simply answer each question truthfully as many times as necessary.
Re-examination by the party who called you as a witness
After cross-examination, the party that called you as a witness may decide to ask you some more questions. This is called re-examination.
During re-examination, the questioner is usually trying to undo any damage that may have been done to their case during cross-examination by clarifying your answers during cross-examination or reinforcing answers you already gave during examination-in-chief.
Again, just answer each question truthfully and calmly.
How long will the process take?
Sometimes, you will be finished in an hour. Sometimes, it can take two days before this process is completed.
If you meet up with the party that subpoenaed you in advance, they should be able to give you a rough idea of how long it will take.
What should I not do in-between this process?
During this process, the judge may call for breaks for lunch or to use the toilet.
During these breaks, you should not speak to anyone about the case or your evidence. You should not eat lunch together with either of the parties in the case, or their lawyers.
After Giving Evidence
When you have finished giving evidence, the judge will dismiss you. You are then free to go and will most likely not need to come back to court again for that case, unless the judge finds that there is a special need to recall you to give further evidence.
If you need to apply for reimbursement of your expenses, you will need to send in an application for that afterwards (as mentioned above).
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