General court processes 

Who can help me understand how the criminal court process works?

If you are a victim of crime, you can get help and support from a Victims Advisor. You can also get help and support from a community organisation such as Victim Support. You can find out more about them on our Victims and Victim Support page.

If you are attending court because you have been charged with an offence, your lawyer can advise you on what you can expect. If you can’t afford a lawyer, a duty lawyer can help you out on your first day at court (including help with applying for legal aid). More information for people appearing in court as defendants is on the Ministry of Justice website.

General information about the criminal court process can be found on the Victims Information website.

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What is an affidavit?

An affidavit is a written, signed and witnessed statement which will be used as evidence in court, for example if you can’t be at the hearing.

The wording of the affidavit varies slightly depending whether you want to swear on the Bible that the statement you’re making is true. If you want to swear on a religious book such as the Bible or the Qur’an then the witness will ask you whether you “swear by almighty God...” that the statement are making is true. If you don’t want to swear on a religious book (eg because you are agnostic) the witness will ask you whether you “solemnly and sincerely affirm…” that the statement you are making is true.

statutory declaration is similar to an affidavit, but is used for things like proving your identity, nationality or marital status if you can’t show the proper documentation. Instead of swearing or affirming that the statement is true, you would "solemnly and sincerely declare" that it is true.

People who are authorised to witness affidavits and statutory declarations made in New Zealand include: 

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What is the meaning of some of the words and terms that lawyers and judges use in court?

There are a number of specific phrases or terms lawyers and judges use in court

  • Adjourn: to postpone a court sitting, or any meeting, to another date and/or location
  • Affidavit: a written statement that is signed and is either sworn on oath or (if you do not want to swear on the Bible) affirmed, and used as evidence in court (if, for example, you can't be present in court). 
  • Complainant: someone who tells the Police that a person has committed a crime 
  • Court order: a document prepared and signed by a court, which puts the judge’s decision into action
  • Defendant: the person or organisation against whom the claim is made.
  • Prosecution: the party taking the case against the defendant, usually the police
  • Summons / subpoena: a notice issued to a defendant, witness or juror, requiring them to attend court at a specified date and time.
  • Witness: a person who gives evidence in a court case.  A crime has happened to them or they saw it happen to someone else, or they have information about a crime though they didn’t actually see it happen.

A more complete list of court terms is on the Ministry of Justice website.

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I’ve been called to court to act as a witness. What do I have to do in court?

If you’ve been called in as a witness, this means that you’ve seen a crime take place, been a victim of a crime, or otherwise have information about the crime. As a witness you will have to tell the judge and jury what happened, or what you know, in your own words. The defence lawyer and the prosecution lawyer can question you.

No-one is allowed to tell you what to say in court. For this reason you may have to wait outside the courtroom until it’s your turn to be questioned. You are allowed to tell your friends or family that you’re going to court or tell them what you know or saw – but they aren’t allowed to influence what you say in court.

If you want to help a young witness you can read about what’s available on our Court support services page. If you are a victim of a crime, you can find information to help you on our Victims and Victim Support page.

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I have received a summons to attend a court hearing as a witness. Do I have to go?

If you have been summoned to court as a witness then you have to attend and your employer has to give you time off work to go to court. If you don’t attend you could be arrested or charged with contempt of court (when you do or say something that interferes with a judge's ability to administer justice - it could result in a fine and, in some cases, prison).

If there is a good reason why you can’t be present at the date and time required, contact the lawyer or police prosecutor who has asked you to be a witness and let them know as soon as possible.

In special circumstances you may be allowed to give evidence without being physically in the courtroom e.g. by video link. Talk to the police or the lawyer of the party which has called you as a witness.

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I’m the defendant in a court hearing, which is in a courthouse in another town. Is it possible to have it moved to a courthouse closer to home?

It is possible to do this, but you will need approval from the Police prosecutor. Go to your nearest courthouse and fill out a “transfer request” from over the counter. The court staff will forward the request to the Police, and the Police will make the decision whether or not to approve the transfer.

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Can I get financial assistance or compensation for having to go to court as a witness?

If you have been summoned to court as a witness, your employer does not have to pay you for that time unless you take that time off as annual leave, or your employment agreement provides for this.

However, you may be able to claim for related expenses from the person who is calling you as a witness (for costs such as travel, accommodation and / or meals. Ask the Police officer in charge of the case or the lawyer (or other representative) of the person who’s calling you as a witness about this. Make sure you keep your receipts in case you are able to be reimbursed.

If you are a court witness because you were the victim of a crime, read about support and financial assistance available to you on our Victims and Victim Support page.

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What is name suppression?

Sometimes there is a risk that a person will suffer unfair, long-term harm as a result of being identified with a court case. In such cases, the court can grant name suppression to the victim and / or to the offender. When someone has name suppression, it is unlawful for anybody to publish that person’s name or any personal details that would identify that person and link them to the case. 

If you want name suppression you can discuss this with your lawyer.

Information about name suppression for victims and offenders is on the Victims Information website.

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Is it possible to get an interpreter at Court if the witness can’t speak English?

If a person who needs to attend a court hearing does not communicate fluently in English, it is possible to ask the court for an interpreter. The interpreter is chosen by the court. If you want an interpreter at court you should request one as soon as you receive the summons. More about this is on the  Ministry of Justice website.

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Can I speak Māori in court?

Yes you can – it is your right to speak Māori in a court or tribunal if you wish to. To be able to do this you have to fill out a Notice of Intention to Speak Maori. You can download a copy from the Ministry of Justice website or obtain a printed form at your local court or Community Law Centre.
The form must be sent to court at least 10 working days before you’re due to appear in court. If you speak Māori in court, an interpreter will repeat your words to the court in English.

More information about this is on the Ministry of Justice website.

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I have been asked to give a character reference in the sentencing of someone I know. What does this mean?

When an offender is awaiting sentencing, their lawyer may arrange for one or more people to provide character references as evidence that the offence was out of character for the offender. The judge will take any character references into account, along with other factors, when determining the sentence that is to be carried out.

If you have been asked to provide a character reference, you should contact the person who asked you (normally the offender's lawyer), and ask the lawyer to explain what is involved.

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How do I get an arrest warrant cleared?

You can get the arrest warrant cleared by going to the criminal counter at the courthouse (in person) and telling the court staff that you want to make a “voluntary appearance” to clear your arrest warrant.

If the warrant can be cleared right away, the court staff will give you a “Notice of bail”.
If a judge needs to make the decision to clear your arrest warrant, the court will give you a “Notice of hearing to withdraw an outstanding warrant to arrest”, and a new court date.

Information about how to clear an arrest warrant so that your benefit is not affected, is on the Work and Income website