You may be asked at some point in your life to attend court to give evidence in respect of any kind of matter. Although you will be called in support of one particular side, you have a duty to tell the truth to the court, and so you cannot change your evidence in order to suit the party calling you. It can be a daunting prospect, but here are some do’s and don’ts to help prepare you for giving evidence.
- Make sure you carefully read your witness statement prior to signing. You will be asked to sign a statement of truth, which is a declaration to the court that you believe the contents of the statement to be true. There could be a factual error in the statement which, if you contradict whilst giving oral evidence, could bring your credibility as a witness into question.
- Make sure you study and re-read your statement prior to giving oral evidence. More often than not, it can be weeks, possibly even months, between the drafting of the witness statement, and you giving oral evidence in trial. Details can easily be forgotten in that time, so it is best to re-read your evidence carefully to remind yourself of the facts.
- If you are unsure about something, say so. You will be cross examined by the advocate acting for the other side, and a question may be asked which you are unsure on. Do not guess or make assumptions on what you would do in that situation. Only explain what you remember about the particular circumstances which are in dispute. If you cannot remember, then say so, because that is much better than making an assumption which later turns out to be untrue. This could bring into question your credibility as a witness.
- Try to keep calm during cross-examination. As stated previously, you will be cross-examined by the opposing party’s advocate. The advocate has to act in the best interests of their client and so they will make attempts to try and trip you up, make mistakes and put you under pressure. They will say to you that they think that you are not being truthful, or that you are not correct. Prepare for this, and make sure you do not get irate or aggressive with the advocate or the court. Not only could it reflect badly on your character, but if you are providing evidence on which party was the aggressor in an incident, then the tribunal will look at your manner when giving evidence when making a decision.
- Tell the truth. This may be self-explanatory; however, you will be under oath whilst giving evidence. You have sworn to tell the truth and so you should do exactly that.
- Manipulate your evidence to suit the party you are called to give evidence for. Witnesses can often get themselves into difficulty if they try to manipulate their evidence to suit their sides end goal. You can easily be tripped up and actually hinder your sides case.
- Rush. Speak slowly and clearly so that the judge and advocates can make notes on your evidence. This will be used by each side to make their final submissions and be of assistance to the judge in making their decision, so it is important to make sure that they are able to capture all the evidence you give.
- Speak to your representatives or other witnesses whilst under oath. There may be occasions when your evidence is too long to run straight through, and a break is required, or it runs into the next day. In those circumstances, you will still be under oath, and will not be allowed to speak to any other witnesses, or your sides legal representatives, until your evidence is complete. If you do so, there is a risk that your evidence can be struck out and not be able to be used.