Instructions for the witness of a criminal case

In criminal cases, there are often unclear and varying opinions of what has happened. During trial, the events are clarified and witnesses play a very important role. Person witnessing is oral and it takes place by telling about the events in front of the court. The previous police questioning and prepared interrogation reports cannot be invoked.

The witness has a positive duty to tell the truth. This means that he/she must truthfully tell about everything he/she knows about the case at his/her own initiative. He/she must also answer any presented questions. If the witness is found to have altered the truth or concealed something, he/she will be charged for an untrue statement. This is usually punished with imprisonment.

You can protect yourself or your relative (partner, ex-partner, fiancé(e), relative in the ascending or descending generation or such relative’s partner or ex-partner, sibling or sibling's partner), so a witness may refuse to testify and he/she does not have to respond to such questions, which may place him-/herself or his/her relative at the risk of a sentence. A witness does not have to reveal any professional secret either, unless he/she is legally obliged.

Even if the witness has the right to refuse to testify, he/she must always attend court, if he/she is summoned. If a witness does not use his/her right to refuse to testify, he/she must inform this with the same obligation of truth as any other witness. The confidentiality obligation of a social and healthcare employee may be broken, and they may be obliged to testify on confidential matters as well.

Testifying is a citizen duty, which cannot be refused. Witnesses are usually summoned to court at the threat of a fine. A witness shall receive a written summons to the trial. He/she must attend court at the mentioned time, unless he/she has such a hindrance due to which he/she cannot attend. Such a hindrance may be, for example, and illness or the interruption of public transport. The hindrance is approved by the chairman of the trial, i.e. The judge. The hindrance must be informed in advance to the chairman of the trial or the person, who has requested the witness to be summoned to court. If the hindrance is an illness, the witness must provide a medical certificate to the court.  

On the wall of the court’s waiting room, there is a list which indicates the order in which criminal cases shall be handled. The entire processing time is difficult to estimate; the witness should prepare to wait for his/her turn. The handling of some cases may have to be cancelled at this stage, e.g. Due to the fact that one of the parties concerned has not arrived. The witnesses are called to the court room one by one. They are only there while they testify. The witness may not however leave the court's session location before the handling of the case has ended, unless the chairman of the trial has given permission.

Witness oath

The witness swears the witness oath or provides assurance. The oath is usually given, when the witness is a member of the church. The witness may however decide whether to swear the oath or give assurance. In a criminal case, certain relatives do not however swear the oath. The oath or assurance is repeated after the chairman.

Witness oath

  • I swear by .......... (according to religious belief) that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Witness affirmation

  • I do solemnly, sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Reimbursement of witness expenses

If the witness has been appointed by a public prosecutor or party, who has been granted legal aid, the following reimbursement is paid by the government:

  • Travel expenses according to the ticket price of the cheapest vehicle (bus, train).
  • Financial loss (e.g. Loss of income, additional child care costs) on a net basis, because the reimbursement paid by the government is tax-free income. For the loss of income or other such, the witness should bring a receipt or other written statement. An upper limit has, however, been set for the reimbursement paid by the government.
  • Daily allowance, which depends on the time spent at court and travelling.
  • If the witness comes from such a long distance and has to spend the night away from home, he/she shall be reimbursed any accommodation costs. There is a certain upper limit for the reimbursement.

Reimbursement paid by the government are usually paid retrospectively to the witness’s account. To ensure the payment, the witness must inform his/her bank account details to the court.

98 If a private party, who has not been granted legal aid, has invited the witness to court, he/she shall pay for any costs incurred by the witness. A witness can present his/her own compensation claims in court. The court will determine the amount of compensation after questioning the concerned party.

A witness may also request reimbursement in advance for travel expenses. In some cases, he/she may also be able to get daily allowance and compensation for accommodation costs in advance. A witness appointed by a public prosecutor may request advance from the police station of his/her municipality of domicile. A witness invited by a private party may request advance from this party.

A witness to be questioned during the police preliminary investigation shall not be paid reimbursement for travel expenses or loss of income by the government.

Threatening of the witness

Threatening a witness is a punishable offense. In cases of threats or violence, the witness must contact the police or the prosecutor. Threatening should also be informed to the court. For the protection of the witness or his/her relative, the witness may be questioned so that a certain party is not present.

More information on testifying can be found in the witness guide

Expert witness and actual expert

Doctors, therapists, crisis workers and police are very common professional, who want to be heard as witnesses in court. Due to the particular expertise of the witness, such person is often referred to as an expert witness. The position of an expert witness is the same as for other witnesses. An expert witness is usually appointed by the prosecutor.

The court has the possibility to also appoint an actual expert for the case. The court may acquire an official, agency or other professional's expert statement for such issues that require special professional expertise. A person who is connected to the case or either of the concerned parties in such a way that his/her reliability can be considered to be reduced, cannot operate as an expert.

A usual witness tells about his/her observations about issues crucial for solving the case. An expert witness and expert tell about his/her observations or about the topic on the basis of general expertise. For example, in an exploitation case, where the victim is a child, he/she may tell about both the relevant child’s symptoms and consequences, and at a general level about what sexual exploitation means to the development and the psychological well-being of the child.

The questioning of an expert witness or expert is often based on his/her written statement. The statement is required to clearly explain what has been observed in investigations and a justified statement on this information.

More information on testifying can be found in the witness guide