Witness fees are fees which are provided to compensate people who are called as witnesses in a trial, which may be civil or criminal. Most nations require that witnesses be compensated for their time in court and provide guidelines for witness fees. There may be circumstances in which the requirements to compensate witnesses can be waived, and the parties to the case themselves are not offered witness fees if they choose to take the stand.
The purpose of a witness fee is to compensate people for the hardship of coming to court to act as a witness. When someone is called to be a witness, he or she usually misses some time at work and can also incur travel expenses. If the court is far from the home of the witness, the witness may also need to stay overnight and obtain meals, which can make serving as a witness very expensive.
Witnesses are compensated both for their time in the courtroom and for the time spent traveling. Witness fees include mileage compensation or payment for travel if a witness needs to fly or take the train to reach the court, for example. If the witness needs to stay overnight, the witness is also entitled to accommodations or funds which can be used to pay for reasonable accommodations, as well as meals. The costs mandated by law to cover these expenses tend to vary by region, as some areas have higher costs for things like hotel rooms and meals than others.
The minimum witness fee required by law may also be varied for people in special situations, such as peace officers. In some regions, if a peace officer is called to the stand, in addition to being offered a standard witness fee, funds must be paid to compensate the employing agency, which is often required to pay the officer as though he or she was at work even though the officer is not on duty or available to assist with law enforcement activities while in court.
Expert witnesses rarely receive the minimum witness fee. They are offered additional compensation because they are being called upon to exercise their professional skills. The experience and qualifications of an expert witness are an important resource for the party calling the witness and such witnesses tend to be most useful and helpful when they are provided with extra compensation for their services. Expert witnesses usually discuss the nature of their testimony and compensation before they are called, so that all parties can reach an amenable agreement in regards to witness fees and other matters.