Hearing of witnesses in a criminal trial
Verified 01 October 2021 - Directorate for Legal and Administrative Information (Prime Minister)
During a criminal trial, any person capable of giving information on the facts tried may be heard as a witness, with the exception of the victim and the suspect. Witnesses shall be summoned within a time limit which allows them to be released. They are compensated, sworn in, and are required to answer questions from the court. Refusal to swear an oath or answer and false testimony are punishable by fines. Sometimes the witness can testify anonymously.
Anyone with information on the case may be a witness, unless the person is involved in the case as a victim, defendant or accused.
It's not necessarily someone who has witnessed the offense first-hand. It may also be a person who can give information about the suspect's personality.
a minor may also be a witness. It is up to the judge to verify the accuracy of the testimony.
Witnesses shall be called by quotation in court. They may be called by civil parties or by the public prosecutor's office (prosecutor or attorney general in court).
The summons shall indicate the court seised, the place and the date of the hearing. The citation states that the person is called as a witness. She must also mention that non-appearance, refusal to testify and false testimony are punishable by law.
The summons must be made within a certain period of time before the hearing. This period varies according to the witness's domicile.
The citation must at least be made 10 days before the hearing if the parties are resident in mainland France.
Whether the accused person lives overseas, the citation must then be issued at least 10 days before the hearing, if the trial is held in the same overseas department.
It has to be done at least 10 days and 1 month before the hearing, if the trial is held in another overseas department or in mainland France.
If the accused person lives in mainland France and the trial takes place overseas, the citation must then be issued before at least 10 days and 1 month before the hearing.
Whether the accused person lives in the European Union, the citation must be issued at least 10 days and 1 month before the hearing.
Whether the accused person lives in another country, it must be made at least 10 days and 2 months before the hearing.
The witness called must testify. If the witness has a legitimate reason for not coming to testify, he must notify the judge in charge of the investigation and present him with all the supporting documents (medical certificate...).
In the event of absence without legitimate grounds, the witness may be fined up to €3,750.
At the hearing, all the witnesses are gathered in a separate room. Arrangements may be made to prevent them from talking to each other prior to their deposition.
Each person is then called before the court to take an oath to say The whole truth, nothing but the truth. Only minors under the age of 16 should not be sworn in.
The witness shall declare his full identity: surname, forename, age, occupation, domicile. It shall specify whether he is a parent or allied of the accused, the person civilly liable or the civil party and whether he works for him.
If the witness has difficulty speaking French or does not speak French, the chairman of the tribunal may appoint an interpreter.
The witness must answer the questions posed by the court. Exceptionally, he may use documents authorized by the President of the Court.
If the witness refuses to testify or swear an oath, he or she may be fined up to €3,750.
The witness is entitled to compensation for the loss of his income and the transportation expenses incurred to come to court.
The claim for compensation shall be filed with the Registrar at the hearing.
It shall be accompanied by the following supporting documents:
- Certificate issued by the employer or salary statement to justify the loss of salary or wages
- Transport tickets used (e.g. train, plane, bus) to justify transport costs
If the witness is unable to pay his travel expenses to testify, he may apply to the court for an advance on the compensation due to him. This advance may be requested from the Board (financial services) of the court. For example, it may be equal to the price of a round trip ticket when the journey is made by train.
Who shall I contact
persons accompanying minors under the age of 16 or witnesses whose health condition does not allow them to come to court alone are entitled to compensation.
False testimony shall be punished by 5 years' imprisonment and €75,000 maximum fine.
if the witness refuses to testify or swear an oath, he or she may be fined €3,750 at the most.
If during the criminal investigation the witness was able to testify anonymously, he can still be questioned during the criminal trial in the presence of the suspect. In that case, the confrontation will take place at a distance. The witness will not be visible and his voice will be obscured.