Guidance on Witness Statements and Giving Evidence

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.

Giving Evidence

A witness giving evidence must always remember that their job is only to assist the Judge in their understanding of what happened, or did not happen. A witness’s main concern is to preserve their own credibility.

If you do not know the answer to a question, say so. Do not attempt to guess what ‘would’ or ‘might’ have happened.

Listen carefully to questions put by the other side of the dispute, or by the Judge, and before answering make sure you understand the question being asked clearly, before answering.

If a question in cross examination requires a ‘yes / no’ answer, give this answer first and if necessary then go on to provide context and any additional explanation required.

If you do not understand a question in cross examination, politely ask the person who asked it to repeat the question.

Often inexperienced advocates ask ‘multi-part’ questions which are either unfairly leading (i.e. when the answer to the second part of the question assumes a ‘yes’ to the first part of the question) or confusing and difficult to answer (i.e. because the question has to be unpacked before it can be properly answered). If this happens, politely ask the person who asked it to repeat the question or to break it down into individual questions.

If an answer you are about to give is not helpful to your side of the dispute, do not try to avoid giving it because this will damage your credibility. Answer the question, or make the admission and move on.

Watch the Judge’s note-taking: if they are carefully noting down your answer then slow down to give them a chance to keep pace. If they are leaning back in their chair, what you are saying is probably of limited relevance, so avoid talking on the matter at great length.

Look at the person asking questions in cross examination as they speak, but give your answers to the Judge.

Do not interrupt the Judge or the person asking questions in cross examination when they are speaking.

Do not address the court or tribunal directly unless you are giving evidence. At all other times you may only communicate by written note or by whisper to the person who is representing your side of the dispute.

Always treat the court or tribunal’s staff politely and be polite to all others who attend the hearing (particularly the opposing side).