At a certain stage in an issued claim – for example, a personal injury, industrial disease, clinical negligence, professional negligence, employment etc – there will come a point where the Claimant and Defendant exchange witness statements. Usually the exchange of witness statements will happen at the same time. The Court or Tribunal set the timetable for the exchange of witness statements. Usually the exchange of witness statements takes place after disclosure has taken place.
Well before the deadline for exchange a Claimant (and possibly their witnesses) will usually need to provide a statement to the Claimant’s solicitor.
Here are 9 important pointers for any Claimant and/or witness in preparing their witness statement:-
- The only purpose of a witness statement of any witness is set out their own version of the events and to set out how they see the “facts”. The purpose of the witness statement is not to argue the claim or to try and impress the Judge; it is to set the scene and outline what has happened. Importantly, the witness statement must be relevant to the issues in the claim which directly affect the witness (not others).
- The information in a witness statement has to be true and accurate to the best of the witness’s knowledge and belief. A witness will be asked to sign a statement of truth at the end of their witness statement. If it transpires that the information is not true then there could be serious consequences for the witness and it could affect the outcome of the Claimant’s claim. It is very important for any witness to check, and double check, the witness statement very carefully before it is signed.
- The contents of the witness statement will be relied upon at trial. Imagine that the Judge will read the witness statement before a witness is required to give verbal evidence at the trial. Remember that a witness will be expected to remain consistent on that evidence (providing that they are always telling the truth) from the time of the witness statement up to and including the trial, unless in exceptional cases new information comes to light causing the witness to change their position. A witness for the Claimant will usually be “cross-examined” on their witness statement by the Defendant’s legal team at the trial. A witness for the Defendant will usually be “cross-examined” by the Claimant’s legal team.
- It is important that the witness feels completely comfortable with the content and the wording of their witness statement. It should be in their own words – not words that a lawyer would use. It should tell the story of what happened to them personally.
- A witness should only include information within their own knowledge and their own dealings. Commenting on others’ dealings/conversations which the witness was not privy to could cause difficulty as this is “hearsay” evidence and generally not permitted/helpful.
- A witness should stick to the facts and not speculate on what might have happened or why something went wrong. A witness should not comment on what another person was feeling/experiencing.
- It is not for the witness to deal with matters outside of their expertise. Factual witnesses are separate to expert witnesses.
- A witness or Claimant must avoid making derogatory or negative remarks about the Defendant.
- The witness statement should be concise and factual and, importantly, avoid emotional language. If a Claimant is explaining the impact of negligence on their life, it should be described in a way that a Judge could relate to, for example, the physical injury has affected the ability to do household tasks and the psychiatric injury affects the Claimant in various ways.
For more advice or information on witness statements, please contact Truth Legal Solicitors.