An answer and activity book for kids who are going to court.
Copyright© 2014 by the Ontario Ministry of the Attorney General All rights reserved.
Ministry of the Attorney General
Program Ontario Victim Services
18 King Street East, 7th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5C 1C4
ISBN 978-1-4606-3877-4 (HTML)
This book is available in alternate formats upon request.
Ce livre est également disponible en français.
Created by Victim/Witness Assistance Program, Ministry of the Attorney General
Hi, I'm Yasmin. My friends Alex and Teresa and I have an important job to do. Just like you. We have to go to court and tell the judge about something. Maybe it's something we saw or heard. Maybe it's something that happened to us. Whatever it is, telling the judge about it makes us witnesses. By reading this book, we'll learn about being witnesses. Together we'll think of questions to ask that can make our job easier. We'll also find out about court and the people who work there.
In most towns and cities, there is a building called a courthouse. It's a place where judges, and sometimes juries, decide if someone has broken the law.
A lot happens before people get to court. First there is a complaint. That's when someone speaks to the police and accuses another person of breaking the law. Then there is an interview, which is a meeting with the police or Crown. Next, a charge is laid, which means the police believe the accused person has broken one or more laws. Finally, there is a trial. A trial is a hearing that takes place when the accused pleads "not guilty" and witnesses (like you!) are required to come to court to give evidence.
Dress to be neat and comfortable. Eat a snack. Go to the washroom.
It is the judge's job to listen carefully to everything that everyone says in court. The judge decides whether or not a law has been broken. The judge sits at the front of the courtroom and he or she may ask you some questions. One of the questions you may be asked is, "Do you promise to tell the truth?"
The Crown Attorney helps us to do our job as witnesses. The Crown does this by asking us questions so that the judge can listen to the answers. Sometimes the Crown wears a robe for court. You may hear the Crown Attorney call the defence lawyer "my friend" when they talk in court. This does not mean that they are friends like you and your friends are, it is just what they call each other to show respect.
The accused is the person who the police have charged with breaking the law.
The defence lawyer's job is to help the accused. After the Crown has finished asking you questions, the defence lawyer will have a chance to ask you some questions as well. Sometimes when you're talking, the defence lawyer may stand up and interrupt you to talk to the judge. Don't worry. You haven't done anything wrong and no one is angry at you. All you need to do is stop talking and wait until the judge or the Crown asks you to go on.
The clerk of the court's job is to help the judge. When the judge comes in, the clerk says, "All rise." That means everybody must stand up. The clerk reads out the charge at the beginning of the trial to let everyone know which laws the accused has been charged with breaking. The clerk may ask you if you promise to tell the truth. If you agree to tell the truth, say "I do."
The Victim/Witness Services Worker is there to help you learn all about court and being a witness. He or she will help you feel more comfortable and explain some of the activities that may happen in the courtroom. You can ask the Victim/Witness Services Worker questions about being a witness.
The court reporter's job is to record what everyone says in the courtroom. We can make the court reporter's job easier if we speak loudly and slowly. It's okay to take our time. If we mean yes or no, we should always say the words and not just shake our heads.
A witness is a very important person in court. Our job as witnesses is to listen to questions and to give answers for the judge to hear. This is called giving evidence. The most important thing about being a witness is telling the truth.
If you don't understand what people are asking, say "I don't understand." If they repeat it and you still don't know what they mean, ask them to say it in a different way or an easier way.
You might be asked about things that you don't remember or about things that didn't happen. If you don't remember, say "I don't remember." Don't guess. If you know something never happened, say so. If you forget the order in which things happened, it's okay. The most important thing is to tell the truth.
You might be asked to talk about things that are embarrassing. That's hard to do. Remember that judges and lawyers and everyone in court have heard people talk about embarrassing things a lot of times. You can tell the judge you're embarrassed, but you should tell the judge what happened even if it is embarrassing.
Lots of people cry in court. It's okay. If you think you might cry in court, tell the Crown. The Crown can make sure there are tissues. Tell the Crown what you want to happen if you cry: do you want a break or do you want to keep on going?
It's always a good idea to go to the washroom just before you go into court to be a witness. If you need to go to the washroom while you're giving evidence, tell the judge you need a break. If you're nervous about doing this, talk to the Crown before court about what you should do. You might agree to raise your hand so that the Crown can tell the judge you need a break.
It is easy to get mixed up or to mix up people who are listening to you if you're asked too many questions at a time. You might tell the lawyer who is asking you questions to ask you only one thing at a time so that you can answer properly.
The Crown or Victim/Witness Services Worker can show us the courtroom before it's time for us to be witnesses.
Some kids are scared about going to court. If we're scared, we should tell the Crown why. Sometimes the Crown can talk to the judge about letting us sit behind a screen or have someone sit beside us while we do our job as witnesses.
Some courthouses have a special courtroom TV. If the judge decides that it's best for us to stay outside the courtroom, we can do our job as witnesses in another room. The judge stays in the courtroom and listens to us tell about what happened on the courtroom TV.
Everyone needs to be on their best behaviour when they are in the courtroom. Here is a list of things you should or should not do in court:
The judge listens to all the witnesses and makes a decision about what happened. Each story the witness tells the judge is like one piece of a puzzle, and at the end the judge must put all the puzzle pieces together. If the judge is sure the accused broke the law, then the accused is found guilty, but if the judge is not sure or believes no law was broken, then the judge must find the accused not guilty. If the accused is found not guilty, this doesn't mean that the judge did not believe you.
Sometimes a jury decides whether or not the accused is guilty of breaking the law instead of the judge. A jury is a group of 12 women and men who listen to all the witnesses and decide together whether the accused is guilty or not guilty.
After it's all over, some kids feel sad or upset. You should talk to someone you trust about how you feel. Some kids don't want to know what happens in court after they've finished being a witness. Other kids want to come back and find out what the judge or jury decides about the case. You can talk to the Crown about what you would like to do. Whatever happens, you have done an important job.
In court, people use a lot of words that we may never have heard before. Here's a list of some of them:
Remember, no matter what, you have done an important job!
This booklet was created by the Victim/Witness Assistance Program of the Ministry of the Attorney General of Ontario for young children who must testify in court. It is intended to familiarize children in an educational and appealing way with the concepts, people, vocabulary, and events that are a part of the court process.
We expect that children will vary in their use of this booklet, depending on their age and interest. Some children may simply want to colour in it while they wait to meet the Crown Attorney, or to testify. Others may be interested in the activities and more complex concepts. Some children might use it as a reference to help them understand the criminal court process. It is not meant to replace legal advice nor is it a substitute for careful preparation of children who must testify.
We hope that this booklet will encourage dialogue between child witnesses and Crown Attorneys as well as other supportive adults. We also hope that it will help adults to understand the fear and confusion that children feel when they are faced with the job of testifying and enable both children and adults to ask questions and seek answers.
The Victim/Witness Assistance Program operates in all 54 court districts and provides support and information to victims and witnesses of all ages. Local Victim/Witness Assistance Program staff introduce witnesses to the courtroom, explain legal terminology and the judicial process, serve as a liaison between the witness and the Crown Attorney, and offer referrals to psychological, legal, and medical resources in the community. Staff also serve on local committees which coordinate services to victims of crime and provide public and professional education pertaining to victims and the judicial process.
The Ministry of the Attorney General is committed to helping victims of crime. The Victim/Witness Assistance Program is an example of this commitment in action.