Giving evidence in courtPractitioners sometimes need to give evidence in court on behalf of Oranga Tamariki. We need to understand the legal process and what is required of us.
Upcoming changes for this guidance
This content will be strengthened so it more completely reflects our commitment to practice framed by te Tiriti o Waitangi, based on a mana-enhancing paradigm for practice, and drawing from Te Ao Māori principles of oranga to support mana tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. We each need to consider how we can apply these principles to our practice when reading this guidance. The following resources provide support:
Practice for working effectively with Māori
Our practice shift
Giving evidence in different courts
The main courts where we may be required to give evidence are the Family Court and the Youth Court.
Sometimes, we may be required to give evidence in the Coroners Court.
If tamariki or rangatahi we are working with (or recently worked with) die unexpectedly or in suspicious circumstances, the death will be referred to the coroner who may then hold an inquiry into the death that may lead to an inquest (similar to a hearing). The purpose of an inquest is to:
- look at the circumstances surrounding a death
- make recommendations that may reduce further deaths in similar circumstances.
The coroner can call on evidence from Police, pathologists, whānau or family, lay people or any other person they want to examine. For example, a coroner could ask:
- a social worker to give evidence about their involvement with te tamaiti or rangatahi
- a practice leader to give evidence about our practice standards and policies.
If we are called to give evidence, we will be supported by our Operational Issues Team and Legal Team. They will:
- talk about the issues the coroner is investigating
- outline the areas of practice or policy the coroner would like to hear about
- help and support us to prepare a brief of evidence and throughout the inquest process.
The Professional Practice Group can also provide support (usually in written form) for submissions.
A lawyer will be at the inquest to help us and take us through our evidence.
Preparing for court
As soon as we are asked to give evidence in court, we should talk with our supervisor and site solicitor or the lawyer representing Oranga Tamariki.
Support from our supervisor
For care or protection cases, our supervisor can help us come up with a proposed plan for safety and contact for te tamaiti in case the judge decides to reserve their judgment or decision (it is possible we may not get a result for up to several months).
Our supervisor can also help us:
- retrieve our diary, notes or visiting book if they have been archived
- work through any worries or anxieties we have about giving evidence on the stand
- organise for another social worker to cover our work while we prepare for court and while we're in court.
Working with the lawyer representing Oranga Tamariki
The lawyer representing Oranga Tamariki will help us:
- prepare our evidence – our evidence is usually based on affidavits we have filed in court or reports we have written, as well as our diary, notes or visiting book (the lawyer may want to see these)
- go over our evidence and be confident of the facts
- practise responding to questions we may be asked in court, including during cross-examination in a defended hearing.
We should tell the lawyer about any issues that may arise during the hearing. They can answer any questions we may have.
We can sometimes be called to give evidence even if we are no longer allocated the case or we no longer work for Oranga Tamariki. The decision about who attends is based on who is the best person to talk to the evidence and respond to questions.
During the hearing
When we give evidence, we may be asked questions by our lawyer and cross-examined by other lawyers, who may be representing the parents or te tamaiti or rangatahi, for example. We should:
- ask for clarification if a question is unclear or complex
- correct any misinterpretations by the cross-examiner
- tell the judge if can't find a piece of information in the ring binders that are provided (called 'bundles')
- not give an opinion that we're not qualified to give – for example, an opinion about a psychological condition if we're not qualified as a psychologist.
If we’re asked if something is 'possible', we should state whether we think it’s likely or unlikely in this case.
Our evidence will be recorded electronically.
If we are sworn in and the court adjourns for a break or the end of the day, we are still under oath and can only talk about the case with the lawyer with the consent of the judge or the consent of all the parties.
After the hearing
We should meet with the solicitor when the hearing is over and ask for feedback on what went well and what we could do differently next time.
We can talk with our supervisor about:
- how we found the experience of giving evidence in court
- how we feel about the outcome of the hearing once the judge's decision is released.