Guidance on Witness Statements

Witness Statements tell a story from the witness’s perspective; they should be easy to read and understand.  The objective of the statement is to provide a clear and easy to understand account of what happened.  

Stick to facts – the focus should be on facts and not opinion. 

Keep it simple – use relatively short, consecutively numbered paragraphs and short sentences.

Read it back – witnesses should read their statements back to themselves to make sure they are easy to understand, and don’t contain overly long sentences. 

Keep it chronological – follow the order of the facts reported.  When the story moves forward in time, a new numbered paragraph is required.  So each paragraph should explain when the events happened (i.e. by giving a date, approximate date, date range, or – if more appropriate – time of day).

Only deal with matters that are relevant – witness evidence should focus on a list of relevant issues and deal with each issue logically.  When a new issue is being addressed, a new numbered paragraph is required.

An overly informal or conversational approach is to be avoided.  A witness statement is a formal document.  Abbreviations and colloquialisms are not advisable.  

Witness evidence may (where appropriate) refute allegations made by others.

Witnesses should always remember that their duty is only to report the facts accurately and truthfully.  It is not the witness’s job to argue points of credibility, make submissions (i.e. say things designed to persuade or influence), cross-examine opposing witnesses, or assume any responsibility for the case. 

Truthfulness and credibility are all that is required.  The witness’s job is to assist the panel (or hearing officer) with their understanding of what happened.

When a witness reports what someone else said, speech marks should be used.  

If a witness has particular cause to remember something said or done, then this can add credibility and should be included.  However, this is only necessary for issues that are likely to be in dispute and not for all events reported.  

Witnesses should focus on things said, done or written that they have first hand experience of.  

Evidence of what others have said is allowable (this is called hearsay evidence), however the witness should be clear that they are reporting what someone else told them.

When dealing with other relevant documents the witness need only identify the documents and explain their relevance (if this is not obvious). There is no need to repeat information contained within another document.

Witness statements should refer to the relevant documents either by page number (if there is a bundle) or by providing a short note or description of the relevant document.

Witnesses should test the accuracy and completeness of everything in the statement.  Witnesses should ask themselves: ‘is this 100% truthful and accurate to the best of my knowledge or belief?’ 

Use of terms such as ‘I would have…’ should be avoided: they suggest that the witness cannot actually remember and is guessing about what they may have done. If a witness is not sure of something they should either say this in the statement, or leave the material out of the statement altogether. 

When considering the credibility of the evidence being given, it is necessary to take the surrounding circumstances into account and what one would naturally consider likely to have been done (or said).  If something reported does not obviously fit with what one might expect, care should be taken to explain why it is nevertheless true and should be believed.

Witnesses must ensure they check the accuracy of their statements and only sign when they are entirely satisfied that the statement is accurate and complete. 

Statements should be signed and dated.