Q: What is witness familiarisation?
A: Witness familiarisation is a process which provides witnesses with a comprehensive understanding of the theory, practice and procedure of giving evidence and what is expected of them when they are required to give evidence.
This includes familiarising the witness with the layout of the legal forum, the likely sequence of events when the witness will be giving evidence and a balanced appraisal of the different responsibilities of the various people at the hearing.
Q: What is the difference between witness familiarisation and coaching?
A: Coaching has always been prohibited. Lawyers are not allowed to prepare witnesses on what they should say, or attempt to persuade the witness into changing their evidence.
In contrast, witness familiarisation is encouraged by both the Bar Council and the Court of Appeal. Witnesses should not be disadvantaged by ignorance of the process or taken by surprise at the way in which the hearing works. There is a duty to put witnesses at ease as much as possible before their hearing.
Q: Why use Bond Solon?
A: Bond Solon is the leading provider of witness familiarisation in the UK. We regularly provide this service to the majority of the top 100 leading law firms across the UK, as well as directly to a large number of companies.
- Experienced. Bond Solon has unparalleled experience and understanding of the different needs of witnesses. Over 250,000 witnesses have attended our sessions.
- Impartial. There can be no allegations of coaching because Bond Solon are wholly independent and our trainers have no personal knowledge of the facts and issues of the case.
- Highly skilled. Bond Solon trainers are experienced barristers and solicitors. As professional trainers, they have extensive experience in delivering witness familiarisation sessions for Witnesses of Fact and Expert Witnesses in a variety of legal forums.
Q: Why shouldn’t solicitors or counsel run the witness familiarisation sessions themselves?
A: The Court of Appeal in R v Momodou  EWCA Crim 177 (par 64) clearly states that in criminal proceedings, none of those conducting the witness familiarisation session should have any personal knowledge of the matters in issue in the case.
This has been adopted by the Bar Council in their Guidance, which also states for civil proceedings that until there is further authority, it is prudent to follow the same principles as set out in Momodou.
Q: Can witness familiarisation include mock cross-examination?
A: Yes, as long as the material used does not bear similarity to the issues and content in the forthcoming proceedings, and those conducting the session have no personal knowledge of the case.
During Bond Solon sessions, witnesses will be cross-examined in a mock hearing. We are able to provide this as our trainers have no knowledge of the case, and the case studies we provide will bear no similarity to either the issues or content of the forthcoming hearing.
Q: After the session what feedback will I receive?
A: Oral feedback is given to each witness following the mock cross-examination to help them understand what the hearing requires. We also complete a written assessment form which we are able to discuss with you after the session or return to you as soon as possible after the session.
Q: Can Bond Solon provide witness familiarisation sessions to overseas witnesses?
A: Yes. Bond Solon regularly provides witness familiarisation sessions for overseas witnesses. Many of these witnesses come from countries with an inquisitorial legal system and have little or no knowledge of the adversarial UK legal system. These sessions can be delivered with the interpreters who will be attending the hearing (if applicable).
Q: How long before the hearing should a witness familiarisation session be scheduled?
A: You should start to think about scheduling a session three months before the hearing. The ideal time for the session to take place is three weeks before the hearing. This will provide witnesses with time to reflect on what they have learnt and prepare for their forthcoming hearing. We are also able to arrange sessions at very short notice if necessary.
Q: How long does a Bond Solon witness familiarisation session last?
A: The length of the training depends on the number of witnesses. Usually allow three hours for 1 witness and up to a full day for 4-6 witnesses. After the initial session, some witnesses may require a follow-up cross-examination session.
Q: Where does the training take place?
A: We can run witness familiarisation sessions for witnesses from all over the world (and across different time zones), giving evidence in virtual, hybrid or face to face settings.
For preparation for virtual hearings, we have access to several different video platforms and look to replicate the conditions at the hearing itself. Trials due to be heard in person? We can deliver training in-person as required, whilst of course observing the necessary social distancing requirements and following the government guidance.