The justice system can be complicated and unfamiliar but knowing what to expect can help. We can help you understand and engage with the justice system, answer any questions you have, and be there for you if you want someone to listen.
We can support you with:
You can call us or visit our How we can help page to find out more about who we are, how we can help you and how to access our support.
If you or others have been injured, see a doctor, go to a hospital emergency department or call an ambulance on 111 regardless of whether you decide to report the incident or not.
A professional medical assessment can help your recovery and ensure physical safety.
Depending on the incident, consider having the doctor prepare a medical report that can be shared with police, if you are comfortable doing that.
For many, a ceremonial blessing of the site where a person has died is an essential part of processing the loss. It acknowledges of the spiritual impact of the tragedy and protects and guides the spirit of the deceased. It respects and honours the dignity of the deceased person, their family, whānau, and community.
For Māori, it can include lifting of the tapu on the site and karakia. Other cultural and faith groups have their own unique blessing ceremonies. Some family or whānau members may choose to visit the scene and be part of a blessing ceremony and others may not. They may prefer to hold a private blessing or open it to whomever would like to come, including from the community.
If you are an immediate family or whānau member wishing to organise a blessing for the site, you could contact your kaumātua, local marae, church or faith centre, the police officer who has been working with you, a Police Iwi Liaison Officer, or speak to a Support Worker.
If you don't personally know the family or whānau but witnessed or discovered the incident, you can speak to a Support Worker if you'd like to attend a blessing, provided it is open to the public and the family or whānau are comfortable with that.
Manaaki Tāngata | Victim Support
Call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected to a Support Worker for assistance.
Support through the criminal justice system
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Support is here for you when things get tough. You don't have to face it alone. Reach out to these confidential and non-judgmental services to discuss your situation and get the help you need.
Victims may go into court to be a witness, to support someone, or to observe what’s happening in their case. The court process can be complicated, with a lot of legal phrases and procedures involved. Some criminal cases are long and difficult, with unpredictable delays that can be hard to understand.
It's helpful to know what might happen and when, how you can participate, and where you can get support.
Victims may go into court to be a witness, to support someone, or to observe what’s happening in their case. Many victims find it worthwhile participating in the court or criminal justice process and it helps to be prepared for what to expect.
The main thing victims may notice is that court dates and the actual proceedings revolve around the defendant, not the victim. This is because the defendant is being charged with breaking a state law. The two official parties in the justice process are therefore the state (represented by the Crown/Police Prosecutor) and the defendant. It also helps to remember that in court the defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty.
It can be stressful reliving an already traumatic experience in court and to hear the defendant present information which may not reflect events as you experienced them.
That’s why it is important to have good support in place.
The court is kept safe and secure, so you will probably be asked first to go through court security. When you get inside the court building, the court staff can explain where to go. All court staff, lawyers, and the police know to treat victims with respect and consideration. Your safety needs are a priority.
If you have concerns about seeing the defendant, or their family or whānau, speak with your Court Victim Advisor about how and when you might see them. Knowing what to expect can help you cope. You could also ask them if there is an option to view the proceedings via audio-visual link in a private space. Some courts have a whānau room where you can talk privately, away from the defendant.
A courtroom is quite a formal place. You’re not allowed to eat or drink there, wear a hat or sunglasses, talk during evidence, disturb others, swear, take notes, recordings or images, or use your mobile phone.
Whenever the judge comes into the court, or leaves it, everyone must stand up. In most courts people call the judge ‘Your Honour’ or ‘judge’.
Criminal cases can either be heard by a judge alone or by a judge and jury.
A jury trial is heard by a judge and jury, which is a group of 12 people from the community. The jury’s role is to listen to the evidence provided in the court and to give a verdict on the basis of that evidence. The verdict states if they believe the defendant to be guilty or innocent of the crime(s).
A judge-alone trial is only heard by a judge and only the judge decides on the defendant’s guilt or innocence.
The approach used will depend on the category of the criminal offence. The defendant can also request which type of hearing they would like for their case, if they choose to, but the final decision is made by the judge.
The judge or judicial officer leads proceedings, determining guilt (unless there is a jury) and sentencing of the defendant if found guilty.
The court registrar assists the judge by managing procedures and calling witnesses.
A jury is a group of 12 randomly chosen community members who decide guilt based on facts and law. The judge can give the jury guidance about the law and may make legal decisions about aspects of the case, such as what items can be accepted into evidence or not.
The defendant or accused is the person charged with a crime. They must defend themselves by either representing themselves or having a lawyer do this for them.
The defence is a lawyer representing the defendant. There can sometimes be several defence lawyers representing them.
The prosecutor is the lawyer who represents the Crown (the state) in criminal cases. Their job is to present the case against the defendant.
The police officer in charge of your case, usually called the "OC" or Officer in Charge, will support you during the court process, working with the prosecutor to prepare the case, keeping you informed, and answering your questions.
Witnesses give evidence in a case and answer questions from both the prosecutor and the defence lawyers. Sometimes they will have been victims of the crime the defendant is being accused of.
Witness’s support people offer emotional support in court with the judge's permission, often a friend, family or whānau member.
Victim Support Workers can sit with a victim, their family or whānau and provide practical information and ongoing support.
The prisoner’s escort is a prison, police, or other authorised officer who accompanies the defendant and maintains security around them in the courtroom.
Court security officers are responsible for the safety of all the people in the courtroom, and court buildings, except the defendant. You will also see them when you arrive at the court while you go through security.
A Court Victim Advisor is based at the court to provide assistance and key information to victims (including in the Youth Court) throughout the court process. They are your main point of contact with the court and help with your practical questions about the hearings, arranging financial assistance, and keeping you informed about upcoming hearing details and processes. While respectful and sensitive, they must remain neutral and cannot take on the role of an emotional support person.
An interpreter aids by translating languages or sign language for those involved in the case.
The transcriber is a court staff member who records and transcribes all proceedings in the hearing.
Members of the public can observe court cases from the public gallery as Aotearoa New Zealand has an open justice system. The judge can close the courtroom in certain situations.
Members of the media can attend most cases, but the judge can limit their presence or reporting in specific situations.
The defendant can plead guilty, meaning they admit to committing the offence they are being charged with, or the defendant can plead not guilty, meaning they are saying that they did not commit the offence they have been charged with and intend to defend the charge.
Where multiple charges have been laid against the defendant, they can plead guilty to some charges and not guilty to others.
There are different hearings that take place:
The case will go straight to a sentencing hearing without a trial being held.
The case will go to trial.
The defendant or their defence lawyer and the prosecutor must then jointly file a case management memorandum, which tells the court all the details that relate to the case, and what the issues will be at the trial.
A case review hearing, typically led by a court registrar, occurs within 30 days of a not guilty plea to decide if a full trial is needed.
For trials with a judge-only, the case is adjourned until the trial date.
If it's a jury trial, they wait for a trial callover, where the judge deals with procedural issues and to make sure the case is ready to proceed to trial. It's like a final check to make sure everything's ready. Once everything is ready, a trial date is set.
Victims don’t usually need to attend the case review hearing or trial callover. The prosecutor or Court Victim Advisor will tell you if you do, or you can tell them if you want to attend.
A criminal trial can often be long, running for several weeks. If you've been called as a witness, you'll need to attend the trial to give your evidence.
When the trial ends, the judge or the jury, depending on the type of trial, must decide if the defendant is guilty or not guilty. If the jury cannot reach a decision (a hung jury), another trial will need to be held.
If the defendant is found guilty, they will need to appear at the sentencing hearing. The judge will consider any Victim Impact Statements and formal reports on the victim and the sentences given in other similar cases.
If the defendant is found not guilty, they are free to leave the court. A not-guilty verdict means there wasn't sufficient evidence to prove they committed the crime. This verdict can be very disappointing for victims and you are encouraged to seek some support to deal with the after effects.
As a victim of serious crime, you might be called to be a witness at the defendant’s trial and tell the court what happened at the time of the crime.
You will get a letter called a summons with trial details such as when and where it will be held. Sometimes the trial date can be changed, so check with the Officer in Charge ahead of time that it’s still on the same date as you have been told.
Witnesses can be paid for some of the costs of attending court to give evidence, such as travel costs or accommodation. The Officer in Charge of your case, your Court Victim Advisor, or Support Worker can explain how to claim these expenses.
The Officer in Charge of the case or Court Victim Advisor will talk to you about what you need to do as a witness.
Before the case happens, ask the officer in charge or your Court Victim Advisor if you:
Spend some time remembering details of the crime such as:
Remember that your safety is always taken into account. There is usually a separate waiting area for witnesses but If you feel concerned about your safety at court at any time, you can talk to a Court Security Officer, police officer, Court Victim Advisor, or Support Worker.
Arrive at the courtroom in good time to clear security, head to the waiting area, and to have some time to gather your thoughts.
A court officer will call your name and then take you into the courtroom. If you have a support person, they will go with you. You can’t enter the courtroom before this, so you don’t hear other witnesses giving their evidence.
You'll be guided to your seat and asked to promise to tell the truth in front of the court. You can choose a religious promise (oath) or a non-religious one (affirmation). The court's registrar will arrange this for you.
After you have given evidence, you will be told when you can leave by the judge. If you want to, you can stay in the courtroom.
As a witness you will be asked questions by the defence lawyer, the prosecutor, and sometimes the judge, about what happened at the time of the crime, or anything you know about it. You don’t need a lawyer yourself, you will just need to answer the questions as best you can.
The prosecutor will ask you to give evidence first, then the defence lawyer asks questions, which is called a cross-examination. If the prosecutor asks you more questions after that, it is called a re-examination.
Most court hearings in Aotearoa New Zealand are public and can be viewed by members of the public and reported on by the media.
However, the court can help to protect your privacy in several ways:
Going to court as a witness or observing as a victim can be a difficult and demanding time. Support from loved ones can make a positive difference to the experience.
Child or young witnesses go to court as a witness if the judge or jury needs to hear from them about what happened. They are given special support and protection and there are legal responsibilities to protect their privacy.
Coming face-to-face with the defendant in a courtroom can be a very distressing experience for children and complicated court proceedings can make them feel stressed and anxious. Quite often they may be questioned like adults, leaving them uncertain about what to say and how to say it in this unfamiliar environment.
Court Education for Young Witnesses is a programme offered by Court Victim Advisors to young witnesses in adult courts. It also includes the young person’s caregiver and support people.
The goal is to familarise the court to the young witness and explain court proceedings, seating arrangements, and roles to them. You can even arrange a visit to the courtroom to get familiarised with it in advance.
If you request this program from your Court Victim Advisor, they will contact you approximately 3 weeks before the court case.