Preparing your witness statement for court proceedings
When a litigation matter continues on to court proceedings, witnesses are called upon to provide evidence. This can be a daunting prospect for witnesses, especially with legal rules that must be followed on how a witness statement should be prepared. In this blog, we share some key points to consider when writing a statement, and what witnesses need to be aware of.
The role of witness statements in court proceedings
The role of the Court is to get to the truth of a matter; no more, no less. A witness is involved to provide an honest account on the relevant facts within their personal knowledge.
There’s only a limited time allocated to the hearing of evidence, therefore, courts often prefer when witnesses are accurate but concise.
The legal rules on witness statements
In April 2021, the legal rules on how to prepare and submit witness statements for litigation cases in the Business and Property Courts changed, largely so all preparing statements follow a common-sense approach to best-practice when writing statements, to ensure statements are truthful and accurate.
Here’s what a witness needs to know for the preparation of the all-important witness statement, as reiterated by the new rules:
1. Witnesses should only be giving evidence on facts they know. Sadly, sometimes witnesses suggest they know something when actually, they’ve just heard it on the grapevine.
2. Witnesses shouldn’t be under any pressure. They should say only what they are happy to say.
3. Witness statements should (where possible) be prepared with the witness personally, letting the witness explain, and getting down an account that’s both concise, but in the witness’s own “True Voice”. Pro-forma questionnaires can rarely allow for the uniqueness of every person’s testimony and should be avoided.
4. When taking down details from a witness to write a statement, lawyers should use open questions and should not use leading questions to put words into a witness’s mouth or try to get a witness to say something the lawyer wants to hear.
5. Witness statements shouldn’t take endless drafts before submission. Trying to get it to word-perfect might corrupt recollection.
6. Witness statements shouldn’t include reams of documents unless it illustrates a material fact that proves/disproves something in the dispute.
7. Witness statements have to be read by a lawyer, to confirm they comply with ‘the Statement of Best Practice’ – and they must sign the ‘Certificate of Compliance’ to say they have done so. This may seem unnecessary, but this new nugget is there to protect the witness, to ensure both lawyer and witness are satisfied the statement is a true recollection of events in the witness’s own words.
If you’re involved in litigation, it can pay dividends to write a draft statement as early as possible, of all the facts as you remember them. This will also help your lawyers do the best job possible for you. Your lawyers can advise you on the law, but often dispute cases rely on the strength of the evidence.
For further advice on witness statements or help in resolving a dispute, contact our specialist dispute management team on 0161 427 0084 or email us.
Written by Gayle Roberts