Before the hearing
Prior to the hearing or court date you should be provided with your witness statement and any documents you may have to comment on. Practice reading your statement out loud and read it slowly, clearly and concisely. This will refresh your memory if it has been sometime since the events took place. It is essential that others can follow what you are saying, so take your time and practice.
Make sure you are comfortable with the contents of your statement as you could be asked about it. It should be an accurate summary of the event.
It can be very useful to go to a hearing before you participate in one. NMC hearings, Coroner’s Court and Employment Tribunals are open to the public. Having this experience could help you prepare and ensure that you are more relaxed on the day.
Write down any questions you may have about being a witness and, if you are unable to find the answers, ask your legal contact.
Note the day of the hearing and make sure you are available to attend. Most hearings start early in the morning. You should aim to arrive half an hour before the hearing is due to start to give yourself time to review your witness evidence, discuss any last minute issues or questions with the legal representative.
Arrangements on the day
Think about what you are going to wear. Dress code is important and you should wear smart clothes. Take your statement with you at all times, take contact numbers (in case you are unexpectedly delayed) and something to eat and drink. It is also a good idea to take something to read with you as you may be there some time.
Take a pen and paper with you. If you wish to communicate with your legal representative at any time during the hearing you should write this down and pass it to him/her so as not to disturb the hearing in any way.
Make sure your mobile phone is switched off at all times during the hearing.
Be aware of your body language and try not to look defensive e.g. by folding your arms.
Don’t be alarmed if you feel nervous prior to giving evidence. This is perfectly normal. Try to relax as much as possible. Remember that your legal representative is there to look after you and will object to any unfair or improper questioning.
When answering questions put to you it is good practice to turn towards the panel, judge or coroner. They are crucial to the hearing and they need to understand all the issues.
It is very important to take your time. Don't feel rushed or obliged to give an instant answer to any question. Listen carefully to the questions asked and don't be afraid to take your time in considering your answer. If you do not understand or did not hear the question put to you, don't be embarrassed to ask for the question to be elaborated on or repeated.
After you have taken time to consider the question, always answer a question directly and clearly. Do not elaborate on your answer unless you need to put it in context.
Your answers should be limited to those matters of which you have personal knowledge. You should therefore avoid speculation or giving opinion. If you do not remember a particular event make this clear in your answer. It is better to say “I am afraid I cannot remember” than to speculate.
Sometimes "yes" or "no" is quite sufficient. As a rule keep your answers to the questions as short as possible. Try not to “um” and “ah”.
Although the other party’s legal representative may seek to provoke you, he or she is only doing their job and therefore you should remain as calm as possible and avoid offering any defensive, emotional or sarcastic reply.
It is important that you do not let them cut your answers short. Remain calm and finish your sentence.
Answer all the questions truthfully and accurately.
In giving your answers watch the panel/judge/coroner’s pen if he or she is taking notes. You should provide him or her with the opportunity to note what you are saying before you carry on.
If you are asked about a document do not be embarrassed to take your time in locating it. You will have a copy of all the documents in front of you but no one will expect you to find it immediately.
After giving evidence
After giving evidence you should remain silent when other witnesses are being sworn in and are giving their testimony. You should not distract, prompt or give any signals to other witnesses whilst they are giving their evidence. The panel will be observing all those taking part whether they are giving evidence or not, so be aware of your conduct and body language at all times.
Being a witness for a person without legal representation
Due to high legal fees it is quite common for a person to represent themselves rather than pay for legal support. In this scenario it can be a little more unsettling because the questions may be put to you directly by the person being charged rather than by their representative, however the same principles apply. Assess the risk to yourself and if you still have concerns we can discuss them with you.