The Sixteen Golden Rules of Giving Evidence in Court

If you are going to court for yourself, a relative, friend an expert or for any other reason you should be prepared for the general etiquette expected and required in a court of law.

Sometimes, this means that you will be uncomfortably, angry, annoyed or plain insulted by the question. However, the best way of dealing with matters is to follow the 16 golden rules of evidence.

Wishing you the best in Court

Matthew Palazzolo

THE SIXTEEN GOLDEN RULES OF GIVING EVIDENCE

  1. Listen to the question. This is the first and most obvious rule.  You would be surprised how many witnesses do not listen to the question.  They can give answers to questions they think they are being asked.
  2. Don’t agree with something just because it is in a medical report. Doctors make mistakes all the time …
  3. You need to be assertive. That means you have to stick up for yourself. If something is put to you that is wrong, you should say, No, that’s wrong. If you agree with everything that is put to you, you will agree your case out of existence. Nice guys come last.
  4. They may have been out filming you. If you are asked if you can do something, think to yourself, is that something I can do all of the time? Is it something I can do sometimes, but I pay for it later?
  5. Don’t argue with the questioner. Don’t try to run your own case.  Don’t think, I can see where this is going, and I’ll head him off at the pass. You don’t buy a dog and do your own barking.
  6. If you don’t hear or understand the question say so. Don’t guess at what the barrister was asking.  Don’t be afraid to say: “I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the question” or “I am sorry, I don’t understand the question”.  Of course only do this when necessary.
  7. Answer the question. Don’t answer the question you think the barrister should have asked.  Answer the question that you were asked.
  8. Don’t try to evade the question. Barristers love witnesses who try to evade questions.  They ask the same question, again, and again, and again until you do answer the question.  You end up answering the question anyway, so why look evasive?
  9. Think before you answer. Don’t “snap” the answer back at the barrister.  Give yourself time to reflect on the question so that you can do it justice.  That does not mean five minutes pauses before each answer, or else the case will go until Christmas.  It just means slowing yourself down sufficiently to give your best.
  10. Answer the question briefly and to the point. If it is possible to do so, answer the question with as few words as possible.  Often (but not always) the answer can be as simple as “yes” or “no”.  Sometimes this is not possible, but always try to keep your answer as brief as possible.  Barristers tend to be insatiable.  The more you tell them, the more they want to know and the more they will keep asking you.  Unless you are really enjoying yourself in the witness box, you are probably unwittingly painting yourself into a most unpleasant corner.
  11. Don’t make speeches. You are a witness whose job is to answer questions.  You are not in the witness box to make speeches.  That’s for your barrister to do, so don’t try to pinch his job.
  12. Don’t guess at the answer. If you don’t know what the answer is, say so.  If you are not certain what the answer is, again say so.  Don’t be afraid of what the Judge will think of you if you don’t know the answer to the question.  It is not a test you pass or fail.  The Judge will expect you to say you don’t know, if you don’t know.  You may be doing yourself a lot of harm by guessing in those circumstances.
  13. If somebody objects to any questions being asked of you, stop and wait until the objection is dealt with. Whether it is your barrister or the other party’s barrister who objects to a question being asked of you, stop and wait until the Judge rules whether or not you have to answer the question.  If you do not have to answer the question, answer it.  If you do not have to answer it, then don’t.  Chances are that by the time the legal argument is finished, you will have forgotten the question.  Just tell the Judge that you have forgotten what the question was.  Chances are, everyone else will have forgotten too.
  14. If you are asked to say what you heard or what you said, do so in direct speech. This is the only really “technical” rule.  It means that you should give the exact conversation (as best you can recall) as if you were quoting the words in a book in inverted commas (”   “).  This is most difficult in practice because we tend not to speak that way, but do your best.  Think of yourself as a tape recorder, and pretend you have just been switched on.  Practice on unfortunate and captive relatives and friends before the hearing (so long as they are not also witnesses in this case).
  15. Keep your cool. Under no circumstances should you lose your composure or show any flare of temper.  Barristers can provoke witnesses, as it puts them off guard and may cause them to say things they may regret later.  Remember, it’s their job.  Your job is simply to answer the question carefully and calmly.
  16. Tell the truth. The last, but the most important rule is that you must tell the truth.  You will have sworn to do so and you can be in a lot of trouble if you don’t.

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