Practical information
Going to court

Going to court

If you or anyone else is in immediate danger, call emergency services on 111.

  • If you’re in danger but it’s not safe to talk, call 111, stay silent, and follow the instructions to connect to police.
  • If you’re calling from a mobile, stay silent and listen for the 'press 55' prompt for help.
  • If you’re calling from a landline, stay silent and follow the operator’s instructions to press any button for help.
  • If you have hearing or speech difficulties, register for the New Zealand Police 111 TXT service so you can text Police, Fire or Ambulance in an emergency.
  • If English is not your primary language, Victim Support can use Connecting Now to connect with an interpreter over the phone. Call us on 0800 842 846 and let us know which language you need. Victim Support can also try and match you with a Support Worker who speaks your primary language.
  • To make a quick exit from this page click on the Quick Exit button on the top right. Go to the Hide my visit page to learn how to hide evidence of your visit to this site.

You may qualify for financial assistance under the Victim Assistance Scheme (VAS) which helps victims of serious crime by contributing to costs related to the crime, the justice process and recovery.

For more information you can contact your Support Worker, call us directly on 0800 842 846 or visit our Financial assistance page.

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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:

  • Rights and information. We’ll help you understand your rights, provide information, and support you to make informed choices.
  • Justice system. We’ll explain the justice system and help you navigate each step, including supporting you at key moments during court, parole hearings, coronial inquests and family group or restorative justice conferences. We can help you prepare a Victim Impact Statement or apply to be on the Victim Notification Register.
  • Linking with other agencies and support. We’ll help you liaise with police, courts and other government agencies.

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.

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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.

After what’s happened the media may want to get comments or interview you, your family, whānau, close friends or any witnesses.  Media can sometimes feel demanding and intrusive during stressful times but it’s your decision if you want to speak to them or not and what you feel comfortable sharing.

These situations can seem very unjust and unfair and can cause both grief and trauma. There is an overlap between these two reactions but there are also some differences. Grief is a normal reaction to loss, featuring a range of responses that stem from sadness. Trauma is a normal reaction to an abnormal event, featuring a range of responses that stem from fear and anxiety.

To help them cope through what’s happened, provide a safe and supportive space for children and young people to process their thoughts in their own way and reassure them it’s not their fault.

Family, whānau and friends can suddenly be called on to help someone who is a victim, witness, or has been bereaved by a crime or a traumatic event. Your caring support can help the person feel more able to cope and begin to recover. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do or say and you may be feeling stressed by their situation as well. Being there to listen and taking care of yourself along the way helps.

Any sudden death that is unexpected, violent or suspicious will be investigated by a coroner. Coroners are responsible for determining the details surrounding the death, including how, where, when, and why it occurred. This information is important in listing the cause of death on the official death certificate. It is a complex process that can vary according to the different circumstances of the death but is handled carefully and respectfully by those involved.

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.

Advice and information is available from Aotearoa New Zealand embassies in the country concerned and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) can help. They can liaise with New Zealand Police and the country the person died in about the local investigation and justice process.

MFAT can let you know about:

Official processes required in the country the person died in.

Available local burial or cremation options and any requirements that must be met.

Contact details for funeral directors in that country who could manage the funeral or tangihanga.

How you can bring back the person’s body or ashes (repatriation) to Aotearoa New Zealand.

If a person’s body or their ashes are being returned to Aotearoa New Zealand

The immediate family or whānau can ask a funeral director in Aotearoa New Zealand about the options they have for arranging for their loved one's body or ashes to be repatriated (brought back to New Zealand).

Urgent travel

If you live overseas but the death of someone close to you has happened in Aotearoa New Zealand, the bereaved family or whānau are able to access some assistance here in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Manaaki Tāngata | Victim Support
Call us 24/7 on 0800 842 846 to be connected to a Support Worker for assistance.

The Ministry of Justice's Victims Information Centre
Find information, advice and support. Contact them here.

Support through the criminal justice system
Look in this directory to find a New Zealand lawyer

Some financial support
ACC may accept a claim for accidental death which would provide financial support to cover some costs when the death of a New Zealander has been confirmed by police as murder or manslaughter. If you're overseas contact ACC on +64 7 848 7400

Your chosen funeral director can do as little or as much as you want them to do. Talk with your funeral director about what you would like, including any cultural or religious rituals you want honoured. Ask them about costs and payment options, so you can make choices that are manageable.

A funeral director helps bereaved families and whānau in several ways, including:

collecting the person’s body from the mortuary and caring for them at their funeral home until burial or cremation

providing information about necessary legal requirements after a death

registering the death and helping families get a copy of the death certificate

explaining how you can bring back the person’s body or ashes (repatriation) to Aotearoa New Zealand.

preparing the body for viewing if the family wishes this and it is possible

fulfilling the family’s choices for the funeral, tangihanga (tangi), or memorial event

checking if the person’s legal will requested certain funeral arrangements

organising cremation or burial procedures that meet necessary requirements

helping families apply for financial assistance, if needed

If you and your immediate family or whānau prefer to organise a burial or cremation without a funeral director

The Victim Notification Register provides victims of serious crimes with notifications about what's happening to the person that offended against them as they move through the justice system. This includes their Parole Board hearings, temporary prison releases, home detention, hospital detention or prison release date.

To receive notifications and be kept informed, victims must apply to be listed on the Victim Notification Register. Victims are also able to nominate someone else as a representative to receive the notification on their behalf.

A victim can apply to be on the register at any stage after an offender has been charged.

The Police determine a victim’s eligibility to be on the Register and the Department of Corrections runs the confidential Register service.

A Victim Impact Statement is your opportunity to tell the court and the offender how the crime has personally affected you as a victim - emotionally, physically, financially, socially and psychologically, and in your daily life. This is a different statement to the one you gave to police after the crime occurred.

A Victim Impact Statement helps the court understand your views about the offending and the information you provide, if you decide to make a statement, will be considered by the judge when the offender is being sentenced.

The tragic death of someone close to us is always distressing, and when it happens unexpectedly or in some cases violently, it can be even more challenging. We might hear the news from others or have witnessed the person’s death ourselves, and the shock can leave us unsure about what we need to do.

A lot needs to happen within the first few days after a death and many people and agencies become involved. They understand how distressing this time is will support you through it respectfully and with care.

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.

Citizens Advice Bureau | Ngā Pou Whakawhirinaki o Aotearoa

Visit your local CAB in person, search their website, or call for free, confidential support about your rights and how to access community or justice services you need.

Victims Information Line

Call for information about your court case, to access court documents relevant to your case or to speak to your Court Victim Advisor.

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.


How we can help



Financial assistance



What to expect at court

The role of victims

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.

Support at court

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.

  • You can bring family, whānau, or friends to be with you in court as support people.
  • Your Support Worker, who is completely independent of police and the court, can support your well-being and understanding of the court processes, and help to prepare you for the court case.
  • 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.

When you arrive

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.

In the courtroom

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’.

Types of hearings

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 people in court

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 criminal court process

Understanding guilty and not guilty pleas

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 first hearing is to formally hear the defendant’s plea of guilty or not guilty.
  • The sentencing hearing is where the judge hands down the sentence (the punishment) if the defendant has been found guilty.
  • The case review hearing is held if there is a not guilty plea and where it is decided if a full trial is needed.

If the defendant pleads GUILTY

The case will go straight to a sentencing hearing without a trial being held.

If the defendant pleads NOT GUILTY

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.

Preparing for a 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.

The trial

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.

The sentencing hearing

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.


Victim Impact Statement



The Victim Notification Register



Being a witness in court

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:

  • would like to visit the court beforehand to get a feel for what to expect
  • want to request to have a support person with you
  • need an interpreter
  • want to choose an alternative way to give evidence (e.g., behind a screen, or via tele or video conferencing)

Preparing to go to court

Spend some time remembering details of the crime such as:

  • dates and times
  • how things looked or people you saw
  • words or sounds you heard
  • if you have written a Victim Impact Statement, read it to remind yourself of what you wrote.

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.

When it’s your turn to give evidence

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.

Answering questions

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.

  • Remain as calm as possible and take some slow, deep breaths.
  • Take your time to answer and speak as clearly as possible.
  • It’s ok to ask for questions to be repeated if you don’t understand them the first time.
  • It’s ok to say if you don’t know an answer to the question or just can’t remember.

Coping if you become upset or distressed

  • Pause for a few moments and take some slow, deep breaths.
  • Have a drink of water.
  • Ask for a short break if you need one. Allowing this, and how it is done, will be at the judge’s discretion.
  • Only continue giving evidence when you feel ready.


Protecting your privacy

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:

  • Making sure the court doesn’t share your contact details in sensitive cases, unless the judge specifically allows this.
  • Making an Order for Name Suppression for victims of sexual violence and children, which means all information relating to your identity and contact details cannot be published.
  • If the judge believes a case that is sensitive nature requires complete privacy, at their discretion they may order members of the public and media to leave the courtroom and prohibit any reporting on the case.
  • Youth Courts are always closed, and the names of victims suppressed.
  • Coroners can decide that certain cases in the Coroners Court cannot be reported.


Managing media interest



Supporting others

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.

Supporting children and young witnesses

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.  

You can contact the Victim Information Line on 0800 650 654 or make an online enquiry to find out more.

Supporting victims and witnesses




Useful websites and other information


Downloadable resources