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If a case goes to preliminary hearing or trial and you are being called as a witness, you may receive a subpoena (pronounced 'suh-peena'). This is a court document that orders you to attend court and testify.
It gives you the date and time of the hearing, the location of the court and the courtroom number of the case. If you are required as a witness for the Crown, you may be contacted by telephone or letter instead of subpoena. You will be given the contact number for a witness notifier and you may contact the witness notifier if you have any questions about your attendance at court.
To see what a subpoena looks like, click here.
Under the BC Victims of Crime Act (Section 14), your employer must give you time off to testify in court or to attend meetings with the police or Crown counsel. However, your employer is not required to pay you for this time, unless it is a term of your employment (i.e. part of your union agreement). Crown counsel will cover reasonable travel expenses for Crown witnesses required to attend court in British Columbia. For more information, speak to Crown counsel or the witness notifier in the case.
If you do not obey a subpoena or other order to attend court as a witness, you may be arrested and held in custody. You could also be charged with a crime, known as contempt of court. As a result, you could be jailed or fined or both. You could also be charged with contempt of court if you appear in court but then refuse to testify.
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The court will not excuse a witness from being a witness but may excuse a witness from attending on a particular day, depending upon the witness' reason for wanting to be excused. If the witness will have difficulties in attending as required, he or she should contact Crown counsel as soon as possible. Whatever you do, do not ignore a subpoena.
Although Crown counsel will try to contact you if there is any change in the scheduling, it is a good idea for you to confirm the date about a week before you are required to be in court. You should also make sure that Crown counsel has your current contact information.
Remember to bring the subpoena or notice you receive to court on the day that you are scheduled to testify. If you have questions or don’t understand something, you can contact the lawyer who subpoenaed you.
Sections 14 and 15 of the British Columbia Victims of Crime Act set out the provisions that protect witnesses who are subpoenaed.