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How do you prepare for Court?

8 December 2022

‘Modimolle Monster’ survivor, Ina Bonnette, says she would not have made it through her testimony in court if Colleen Strauss, Chief Executive Officer of the Sinoville Crisis Centre (SCC) and Dr Pixie du Toit, Founder, did not assist her.

“It was hell having to sit and testify with Johan Kotzé and the three men who raped me, sitting a few meters away. But they prepared me well and I was surrounded by people who loved and supported me,” says Bonnette.

According to her, court preparation is very important for every victim. “I have never been in a court and it was very intimidating. However, the ladies from SCC escorted me to the court a few times before I had to testify.

“They explained to me all the role-players in a courtroom, who does what and how the proceedings work. I knew where I was going to sit, where the men who attacked me were going to be seated and the roles of the prosecutor, attorney, interpreter, judge and police officials were in court.

“I also knew I could ask for some water or for a break. It was ok to say I am tired if I could not concentrate anymore.

“At the same time I learned that I must carefully listen to what is being asked and only respond to the question. I had to learn how to distinguish between a statement from the defence and questions. I also had to prepare myself for some of the questions and statements that would upset me, but I had to remain calm and respond to them irrespective of how difficult it was,” says Bonnette.

Strauss says it is in the interest of justice that the victim is prepared for what to expect in a courtroom because the courts demand credible and reliable witnesses.

According to the National Prosecuting Authority Court Preparation Programme “no witness” translates to “no justice”! The NPA’s Ke Bona Lesedi Court Preparation Programme focuses on the special needs, fears and concerns of witnesses, whilst giving them a voice in court.

Court preparation is done to empower victims and witnesses to have the confidence to appear in court and give their best evidence: having the voice of the most vulnerable victims at heart and bringing light and hope into their court experience, preventing secondary traumatization, safeguarding their rights and putting them at the centre of the justice system.

Witnesses benefit with reduced stress and an increase in confidence that comes from understanding both how the legal system works and what part they are expected to play in it.

By understanding how the court works and what the child’s role is in that process, a child can concentrate better on his/her testimony, without being distracted by the trappings of the court.

By explaining to the child the “who, what, where, when, how and why” of going to court, as well as their rights in court, we hope that the child will feel more relaxed and be better able to both retrieve and communicate information about the crime.

Court preparation should also help minimize court-related “secondary victimization.” Responses will be more accurate and complete, untainted by stress and distraction. Finally, court preparation will maximize not only the child or other witness’ ability to respond effectively in court, but just as importantly, to be perceived as a credible witness, upon whose testimony a conviction may stand.

The legal system benefits in many ways.

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