Giving Evidence In Court In A Civil Trial
At the outset of most cases it’s very common for clients to ask in a nervous tone “Will I have to go go to court?”
In truth, the vast majority of civil claims are settled long before a trial.
And even when cases go to trial the experience of giving evidence is rarely the ordeal that people fear.
We hope that the following general notes will be helpful if you are ever called on to give evidence.
There is very rarely any high drama involved; especially when witnesses give straightforward and honest evidence.
Goodness, it must be at least a month since we heard a barrister shout at a witness “Did you order the Code Red!”
The Lawyer’s Role In A Civil Trial
As the lawyers in the case we have to prepare your statement, along with all the other evidence.
It is our duty to do that fairly so that the statement accurately reflects your truthful evidence.
We must never tell you what to say.
You must be free to give your evidence however you see fit.
Likewise, we mustn’t “coach” you about how to give your evidence.
But, based on our long experience we can advise you what to expect if you end up going to court.
That experience has taught us some pretty obvious “do’s” & “don’t’s”.
Before You Get To Court In A Civil Trial
Giving evidence is not a memory test.
You might be going along to give evidence about something that happened a long time ago.
If we are calling you to attend court we will have sent you a copy of your statement prior to the hearing.
That gives you a chance to refresh your memory about your evidence before the hearing.
What To Wear When Attending Court
It really shouldn’t matter a jot what you wear.
But in our view it sometimes does.
Either way, it doesn’t do any harm to dress smartly for the occasion.
Nervous About Giving Evidence
It is perfectly understandable for you to be a bit nervous and the Judge will make a proper allowance for that.
The Judge’s Job At A Civil Trial
It’s the Judge’s job to consider your evidence, and the other evidence in the case.
The Judge then decides what the facts are.
The Judge will be a very experienced lawyer.
So as well as listening to the words you say, the Judge will be studying the way you conduct yourself.
The Judge is likely to give far more weight to your evidence if you are honest, open and straightforward, rather than being evasive or argumentative.
How To Address The Judge In Court
Although you will be asked questions by the lawyers, your should address your answers to the Judge,
The lawyers will advise you how to address the Judge.
But the Judge won’t mind being referred to as “Sir” or “Ma’am” or “Your Honour”.
Of course, you must treat the Judge and the lawyers on both sides with respect.
And that still applies even if you think that one of the lawyers is trying to “get under your skin”.
The Job Of The Witness When Giving Evidence
Your only real obligation as a witness is to help the court by telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The clue is right there in the oath or affirmation you are asked to give before giving evidence.
It’s not a case of trying to help one side or the other.
You are there to help the Judge decide the case.
You should listen carefully to the questions.
Then you should give honest and straightforward answers.
If you don’t hear a question properly, or don’t understand the question just ask for it to be repeated.
You should be prepared to make sensible concessions if your evidence is shown to be inaccurate.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with a admitting “I may have been mistaken about that”.
But the Judge is unlikely to give any weight to your evidence if you stick to a version of events that has been shown to be obviously wrong.
There Is Rarely A “Star Witness” At Court
If you are called as a witness you must do your best to help the court.
But it is very rare for a case to be decide on the basis of one “star witness”.
Your evidence will be more like one piece of a jigsaw that the Judge has to put together in order to decide the case.
The Judge is likely to hear from other witnesses on both sides of the case.
Other evidence is also likely to be considered.
This might include things such as photographs, CCTV films, documents and experts’ reports.
So you shouldn’t feel that the case will be decided entirely on the basis of your evidence.
Things You Should Never Do When Giving Evidence
You should never “take on” the lawyer who is asking the questions.
Remember, this is their home turf, so they are likely to feel much more comfortable in the courtroom.
In our experience, Judges invariably insist that the lawyers behave with impeccable manners towards witnesses.
The Judge is also there to protect you if he or she thinks that a lawyer is being aggressive, or if it looks like a lawyer is unfairly trying to trip you up.on’t try to think where a line of questioning is leading.
Similarly, don’t try to work out whether your answer to a question will help one side or the other.
In a nutshell, just give straight and honest answers to the questions.
And one final thing…..
Never – And we mean never! – be rude to the Judge.