I have noticed over time that most persons who are approached to testify in court are usually reluctant to do so, some others out rightly refuse to testify. They state that they are scared of testifying in court. The fear most people experience is so extreme that sometimes some complainants even refuse to testify in their own personal cases.

The courts have in some cases where a person has refused to voluntarily testify compelled such a person to appear in court to testify.

This article is aimed at allaying the fears of any person who might need to testify either now or later in the future and to educate such a person on the protection afforded a witness by the law.

A witness has nothing to fear if he intends to tell the truth and nothing but the truth in court, however, when a person or a witness intentionally tells a lie in court or distorts facts or evidence in other to sway the court and mislead the court, then, he might be guilty of any of the offences relating to the administration of justice, such as perjury e.t.c and he may be liable to punishment.

Perjury is an offence committed when a person in any judicial proceeding or for the purpose of instituting any judicial proceeding knowingly gives false testimony touching any matter which is material to any question pending in that proceeding or intended to be raised in that proceeding. Perjury is characterised by the intentional telling of a lie with intent to mislead the court. A person will still be liable for perjury even if the testimony was not given under oath, and even if the testimony is given orally or in writing, provided the testimony was given in the course of a judicial proceeding.

The punishment for the offence of perjury is imprisonment for fourteen years and where perjury is committed in order to secure the conviction of a person for any offence punishable with death or with imprisonment for life then the person who has committed perjury is liable to imprisonment for life.

A person who does not personally commit perjury, but procures or counsels another person to commit perjury is also guilty of an offence and may be charged with perverting justice. A person will be deemed to have perverted justice if he conspires with another to obstruct, prevent, pervert or defeat the course of justice. The punishment for perverting justice is imprisonment for seven years. A person may also be liable for perverting justice if he does anything which may obstruct, prevent or defeat the course of justice.

Fabrication of evidence is also an offence. This offence is committed when a person with intent to mislead the court or any tribunal in a judicial proceeding fabricates evidence; to fabricate means to invent something which was none existent, or to distort existing evidence, such that it becomes something different from that which was in existence. The offence is punishable with imprisonment for seven years.

 A person may also be liable for destroying evidence if such a person knowing that such piece of evidence may be required in evidence in a judicial proceeding wilfully removes, conceals or destroys it or makes it unusable in order to prevent it from being used in evidence. A person who destroys evidence is liable to imprisonment for three years.

A witness is afforded some protection under the law.  The law provides that no witness is bound to answer any question if the answer to the question would in the opinion of the court have a tendency to expose the witness himself, or the wife of the witness or the husband of the witness to any criminal charge or penalty.[1] Thus, if a person or his spouse has committed an offence and the person was not charged to court for the commission of that offence, such a person can testify in court in another matter if he is so required and he would not be bound to answer any question which may tend to show that he or his spouse has committed an offence if it could expose him or his spouse to a criminal charge.

A witness is also not bound to answer any question which in the opinion of the court is not relevant to the matter in which the witness is testifying. The law further prohibits a witness from being asked indecent or scandalous questions or questions which are intended to insult or annoy or questions asked in a manner which may be offensive in form.

The essence of testifying during a judicial proceeding is to help strengthen or weaken the case of a party and to also assist the court in reaching an impartial and well considered decision. Witnesses are therefore enjoined not to panic or fear when they are requested to testify in any judicial proceeding because the law has put in place some measures to protect a witness of truth and punish a witness of falsehood.

[1] Section 183 of the Evidence Act 2011