Court Companion Guidelines

Downloadable PDF version – Court Companion Guidelines – Friends & Family (PDF 0.4MB)

What is a Court Companion?
Who Can Be A Court Companion?
What is your role as a Court Companion?
Why are Court Companions required?
Who is considered to be an appropriate Court Companion?
Who is not considered an appropriate Court Companion?
What Basic Court Rules should I be aware of?
What are the ‘Rules or Guidelines’ Court Companions must follow?
What could happen if I do not follow the Court rules?
Are Court Companions automatic?
What Are Vulnerable Witness Provision’s (VWP’s)? What other provisions may a ‘Vulnerable Witness’ have in place?
Who Approves the Court Companion?
Can a Court Companion be Challenged or Refused?
What Happens If I Change my Mind About being a Court Companion?
How long will I be required to Court Companion?
What Are Jury Members Told About A Court Companion During the Trial?
What happens when I have finished Court Companioning?
What Supports are Available to Court Companions?

Giving evidence in court can be a stressful and difficult time for witnesses.

A Court Companion can provide support to witnesses to assist in making their experience less stressful. This role will enable you to ‘walk alongside’ the witness throughout the process of giving evidence at trial.

What is a Court Companion?

A Court Companion is a friend, family member, volunteer, or support worker who is not a witness in the case, and who provides assistance and support to a witness during the time they are required to give evidence at Court.

The purpose of a Court Companion is to provide a familiar and supportive physical presence whilst the witness gives evidence.

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Who Can Be A Court Companion?

The Evidence Act, 1929 (SA) states that a witness can be accompanied by a relative or friend for the purpose of providing emotional support.

A counsellor, youth worker, or support worker* may also be considered a suitable Court Companion support, following approval of the Judge.

*Please note that this will be considered by the Judge on a case-by-case basis

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What is your role as a Court Companion?

If you are a Court Companion you will be required to sit with a witness before and during the time they are giving evidence.

Depending on the request and requirements of the witness, you will either sit beside the witness, or in the body of the court.

This will ultimately depend on what has been approved by the Judge.

Your role may also include providing support to the witness during the breaks if required.

A Court Companion cannot assist the witness when giving evidence. They are not allowed to talk, gesture or assist a witness in any way whilst they are giving evidence.

A Court Companion must also be visible to the Judge and Jury while the witness is giving evidence.

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Why are Court Companions required?


Under the Evidence Act, 1929 (SA), the court allows for special arrangements for taking evidence from a witness in a Trial in order to protect the witness from embarrassment, distress or intimidation by the court room environment.

The presence of a Court Companion can often assist in alleviating some of the stress that a witness may experience whilst giving evidence.

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Who is considered to be an appropriate Court Companion?


A person who is not a witness or involved in any way in the trial may be considered to be an appropriate Court Companion.

It is also a requirement that the Court Companion remains neutral during the trial process, and particularly during the time the witness is giving evidence.

Whilst in the court, remaining neutral means that you cannot:

  • Speak to the witness during their evidence;
  • Assist a witness to answer questions;
  • Offer physical or emotional support to the witness;
  • Comfort the witness in any way if they become upset or distressed;
  • Offer verbal support or encouragement to the witness;
  • Express verbal or non-verbal emotions, including obvious facial expressions, during the evidence of a witness.

If you feel you may not be able to fulfil the above requirement, or if you have any further questions about this, please speak to the allocated Witness Assistance Officer, Solicitor or Investigating Officer in this matter.

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Who is not considered an appropriate Court Companion?


A Court Companion cannot be someone who is or may be required to give evidence in the case.

In some instances, defence counsel may object to the choice of a court companion. This will be raised with you if this occurs.

Ultimately it is a matter for a Judge to determine who is or is not a suitable Court Companion.

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What Basic Court Rules should I be aware of?


There are a number of basic Court Rules that you must follow. These include the following:

  • Switch off mobile phones before entering the Courtroom
  • Be polite
  • Maintain a quiet and respectful manner in Court
  • Sit quietly in the Courtroom
  • Dress appropriately. This means smart casual, comfortable and warm clothes
  • Take off your hat, cap and/or sunglasses
  • Do not eat, drink, and chew gum or smoke inside the Courtroom
  • Remember to bow to the Judge when you enter or leave the Courtroom
  • Remember the Judge is the person in charge in the Court

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What are the ‘Rules or Guidelines’ Court Companions must follow?


There are a number of rules and guidelines that Court Companions must follow. These include:

  • You must not talk about the evidence with the witness at any time.
  • You must not help the witness to prepare their evidence
  • You must not help the witness to answer questions
  • You must not touch or comfort the witness during the court hearing.
  • You must not express verbal or non verbal emotion including obvious facial expressions.
  • You must not give any body signals to the witness about the evidence or behave in a way that looks as if you are helping or telling the witness what to say
  • You must not speak during the court hearing, even if the witness is upset. You may only speak if the Judge asks you a question.

In summary, you cannot do anything that might influence or interfere with the court case.

If the witness becomes upset, or you have any concerns please raise this with the Investigating Officer or Sheriffs Officer during a break, or with the prosecutor at the first suitable opportunity.

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What could happen if I do not follow the Court rules?


As a Court Companion, it is important that you follow the rules of the Court at all times.

If you do not follow the rules and/or display inappropriate behaviour in the court room, you may be removed from the court room, and / or cause a mis-trial, which means the trial would be stopped and put off to a later date, with a new Jury.

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Are Court Companions automatic?


The simple answer to this is ‘No’.

The DPP Solicitor in this matter is required to forward the Court Companion application to the Judge where one is requested.

The Trial Judge will make the final decision about whether a Court Companion is approved or not.

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What Are Vulnerable Witness Provision’s (VWP’s)? What other provisions may a ‘Vulnerable Witness’ have in place?


Aside from a Court Companion, a ‘Vulnerable Witnesses’ may also request other VWPs. These are defined in the Evidence Act, 1929 (SA) and may include the following:

Closed Circuit Television (CCTV)

This allows the witness to give evidence from a separate room, instead of the court room, and have it transmitted to the court room via CCTV. Everyone who is present in the court can see and hear the witness on the TV screens in the courtroom. The witness will be able to see and hear the Lawyer asking questions and the Judge on their screen. The witness will not be able to see the accused person on their screen.

One way screen

This means a One-Way Screen is placed between the witness and the accused person so it blocks the view of him or her. It is important to note that the screen acts as a one-way barrier, and the accused is still permitted to see the witness whilst they are giving evidence.

Closed court

An application for a Closed Court can be made for thecourt to be closed to the public whilst the witness gives his/her evidence. This is usually granted in circumstances where the evidence the witness gives is considered sensitive, personal or embarrassing.

Depending on individual circumstances, a witness may request one or more of the provisions above when asking for VWPs.

Please refer to the VWP’’s Information Fact Sheet for more information on this topic.

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Who Approves the Court Companion?


A Judge in the District or Supreme Court is responsible for approving the requested court companion.

The Judge has the ultimate power to grant or refuse any of the special provisions requested by a witness.

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Can a Court Companion be Challenged or Refused?


Yes, an application for a Court Companion can be challenged by an accused and/or refused by the Court.

This objection must be determined before the vulnerable witness gives their evidence. You will be advised if you have been approved or refused by the Court to be a Court Companion.

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What Happens If I Change my Mind About being a Court Companion?


It is important to advise the Witness Assistance Officer or DPP Solicitor involved in the matter as soon as possible if you change your mind about being a Court Companion.

It is important to note that late requests to Court Companion a witness cannot be guaranteed and will be left to the Trial Judge to approve or refuse.

Where a Court Companion is contested and not approved by the Court, staff from the DPP or the Investigating Officer will advise the witness in the case.

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How long will I be required to Court Companion?


As a Court Companion, you will be required for as long as it takes the witness to complete their evidence. Be aware that trials may take longer than expected and there can be delays.

If there are issues regarding your availability, it is important to inform the Witness Assistance Officer, Prosecutor or Investigating Officer as soon as possible.

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What Are Jury Members Told About A Court Companion During the Trial?


If a Court Companion is present with a witness in a trial, the Judge has an obligation to explain this to members of the Jury.

Prior to the giving of evidence at a Trial the Trial Judge will normally advise the jury of the presence of the Court Companion and will instruct them not to draw any conclusions unfavourable to the defendant based on the VWPs that have been granted.

This is simply to keep the trial fair.

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What happens when I have finished Court Companioning?


When your role as a Court Companion is completed, it is likely that the trial will continue with other witnesses.

Once the witness has completed their evidence, there is nothing further that will be required of you.

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What Supports are Available to Court Companions?


If as a support person you feel that you are affected by the court process; or what you have heard while the witness is giving evidence; it is important to seek assistance for yourself. If you need to talk to someone about how you are feeling you can contact one of the following counselling lines:
Lifeline: 13 11 14 or go to www.lifeline.org.au for more information.
Anglicare: 8305 9200 or go to www.anlicare-sa.org.au

You can also refer to the DPP Information Sheet “Referral & Support Services – Quick Reference Guide” which has a list of crisis, counselling, support and other referrals.