Helpful Rules of Giving Evidence
1. Listen to the question. You are likely stressed to this often happens.
2. 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 am sorry, I didn’t hear the question” or “I am sorry, I don’t understand the question”.
3. Answer the question. Don’t answer the question you think the barrister should have asked. Answer only the question asked.
4. Don’t try to evade the question. Barristers love witnesses who try to avoid the questions. They can ask the same question repeatedly until you answer the question. You end up answering the question anyway, so why look evasive?
5. 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.
6. 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. (If you are enjoying yourself in the witness box, you are probably unwittingly painting yourself into a most unpleasant corner).
7. Don’t make speeches. You are a witness whose job it is to answer questions. You are not in the witness box to make speeches.
8. Don’t guess at the answer. If you don’t know what the answer is, say so. If you are not sure 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.
9. If somebody objects to any question 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 should answer the question. If you do have to answer the question, answer it. If you do not have o answer it, then don’t. You will likely have forgotten the question by the time the legal argument is finished. Just tell the Judge that you have forgotten what the question was.
10. 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 you 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).
11. Keep your cool. Under no circumstances should you lose you composure or show any flare of temper. Barristers love to provoke witnesses, as it puts them off guard and may cause them to say things they regret later. Remember, it’s their job. Your job is to answer the question carefully and calmly.
12. Tell the truth. The last, but the most important, the 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. Anyway, the best witness is the honest witness, and so long as you tell the truth, you will find that the case will go well for you.