Top tips for factual witnesses when giving evidence

Giving evidence in any legal hearing (Civil or Criminal Court, Arbitration, Tribunal, Coroners Court, Fatal Accident Inquiry, Public Inquiry, Professional Conduct Hearing etc.), is something that you are not likely to do often in your life. Many witnesses have never seen the inside of a courtroom, tribunal, or other legal hearing. For this reason giving evidence is unfamiliar and can often be an uncomfortable, unsettling and daunting experience for witnesses.

Each legal hearing has its own specific rules and procedures that govern them.  Bond Solon specialises in providing support for all witnesses including witnesses of fact, professional witnesses and expert witnesses giving evidence in a wide variety of legal hearings including: High Court, County Court, Magistrates Court, Crown Court, Arbitration, Employment Tribunal, other Tribunals, Coroners Court, Fatal Accident Inquiry, Public Inquiry, Planning Inquiry, Professional Conduct Hearing, through our Witness Familiarisation Service.

Bond Solon’s Witness Familiarisation service is utilised by the majority of the UK’s leading law firms on behalf of their clients, a large numbers of companies and also witnesses themselves.

Below we provide some useful hints and tips for all factual witnesses which will assist them when giving evidence in any legal hearing.

Top Tips for factual witnesses when Giving Evidence

  • Preparation before giving evidence?

Witness Statements form the basis for the questions that the witness will be asked when giving evidence. Witnesses should be familiar with their evidence and should read their statement, and any related documents, before going into the witness box. Read and re-read it several times.

  • Directing answers to the decision maker

This is not about training a witness to give evidence in a particular way. It is about them being natural and comfortable when they give their evidence so that they can tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth to the decision maker(s). The following points are not rules, but points to consider.

When giving evidence face the decision maker. Non-verbal techniques that might be used by the cross-examining lawyer will be less effective because the witness is not looking at the lawyer all of the time. Turn to face the questioning lawyer. Listen carefully to the question the lawyer is asking. When they have finished their question turn back to face the decision maker. The witness can then consider the question and their answer to it. Direct the answer to the decision maker. Observe their reaction to gauge whether the answer is clearly understood. When the witness has finished their answer turn back to the lawyer, slowly. This is a signal of readiness and allows the witness to control the speed of questioning. If turning between the decision maker and the questioning lawyer does not appear natural, then consider generally facing the decision maker and only glancing back at the questioning lawyer when it feels comfortable.

  • Seeking assistance of the decision maker

As stated above, this is not about training a witness to give evidence in a particular way. When giving evidence the witness should consider asking the decision maker any questions they might have. This is a matter of courtesy, but not a rule. The decision maker can refer any questions to the lawyers. This way the witness is minimising contact with the lawyers and reducing the risk of argument with them. If it is natural and the witness feels comfortable addressing their questions to the lawyers, it is permissible.

  • Communicating effectively

A legal hearing is not a natural environment. It is important, when giving evidence, to take time and speak clearly and slowly. In particular avoid using jargon and technical terms. When addressing the judge or panel, the witness may see them making notes. This is a useful reminder to the witness to slow down to give them time to write. There is no microphone in the hearing in order to amplify a witnesses’ voice, so the witness needs to pitch their voice appropriately.

  • Assume nothing

Although the bundle of documents has been prepared to assist the judge or panel with understanding the case in advance, the witness should not assume when they are giving evidence that the committee has read or understood anything. The witness therefore needs to take every opportunity in answering, to elaborate and expand, in order that they have given sufficient detail to the judge or panel.

  • Cross Examining Techniques

The cross examiner will use a variety of techniques to try to achieve one or more of the following objectives:

  1. Attack or undermine the witness’ evidence (for example, you are mistaken)
  2. Attack or undermine the witness – their character (for example, you are lying)
  3. Put forward their client’s alternative explanation of what happened (‘I put it to you…’)

The role as a witness is to help the decision maker come to a decision by answering questions. To be helpful the witness needs to give complete answers, not incomplete answers which could be misleading. Nor should a witness avoid answering questions – particularly difficult ones. To do so risks the witness appearing evasive. By directing answers to the decision maker and seeking their assistance the witness can carry out their role despite the techniques of cross examination.

  • Stay calm

Witness often find the opposing party’s lawyer or representative may seek to provoke them when they are giving evidence. Witnesses need to remain calm, not arguing with the advocate regardless of their tone or possible rudeness.

  • Don’t go outside the facts or area of expertise when giving evidence  

When giving evidence, if the witness is asked about facts that they do not know, then they cannot answer the question. A witnesses answers should be limited to those matters that they have personal knowledge and should not speculate or give opinion. 

  • Answer honestly

The witness is under a legal obligation to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This means, quite simply, when giving evidence if the witness does not know the answer to a question or cannot recall the details then they should express their answer in such terms.

  • Make sure your Mobile Phone is switched off

If you bring a mobile phone to the hearing, you must be sure to turn it off or at least render it silent. Judges or panel members will get very irritated if these handsets go off during proceedings.

If you will be giving evidence in a forthcoming hearing and would like to discuss how Bond Solon can assist you please call us on 0207 549 2549 or email info@bondsolon.com.

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If you require any help or would like to discuss how Bond Solon can assist you in your training needs, please call us on: +44 (0) 20 7549 2549