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

The witness needs to appreciate that it is the judge or panel who is making the decision in a case and that all answers should be addressed to them. However, much of the questioning will come from other advocates. As soon as the witness enters the witness box they should point their feet towards the judge and or panel. The witness should look at the person who asks them the question, by twisting their hips to face the advocate, and then turn back, on each occasion, to the judge or panel to answer. When the witness has finished giving their answer turn to the advocate for the next question. This technique puts the witness in control, slows the pace down and allows them to focus on answering the person who is making the decision in the case.

  • Seeking assistance of the decision maker

The witness should address everything through the decision maker (Judge or Panel). If the witness has not understood a question or wishes it to be rephrased then this should be requested through the decision maker. This is as a matter of respect and the fact that the judge or panel is presiding over the case and is the decision maker. However care should be taken by the witness if they feel that the question is irrelevant, inappropriate or indeed personal. Ultimately it is for the judge or panel to decide, and not the witness, if a question is to be answered.

  • 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 role of the cross examining advocate is to try and limit/restrict an answer, look for flaws in the evidence and attack the credibility of the witness. The witness should treat every question as an opportunity to give as much relevant detail as they feel necessary. Techniques on cross examination differ but may include an attack on the qualifications and expertise, interruptions, closed questions, multiple questions or hypothetical questions. The advocate may also try and undermine the witness through their tone of voice or gestures.

By taking a moment before every question and answering towards the judge or panel the witness can decide how much detail to give. If the witness has not understood the question or is interrupted before giving their full response then they should seek the assistance of the judge or panel. The witness should also simply ignore any gestures or other theatrics designed to undermine them.

  • 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. 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