Jonathan Lynn; partner of Courtyard Solicitors in Wimbledon & Totnes, is a solicitor with higher rights of audience and has appeared as a court advocate on very many occasions over the last two and a half decades.
In that time he has called many witnesses and cross examined those called by opponents. Here he shares some thoughts on what makes a convincing witness.
“The thing to remember about giving evidence is that it is a question and answer situation and if there is one thing that a witness must do it is to the answer the question. By that I mean the question you have actually been asked, not the one you wanted to be asked or were expecting to asked. Not answering the question asked is the quickest way to lose credibility.
Before answering a question you need to listen to it, then you need to think about it and then - and only then - you need to answer it. It is remarkable how often a witness will not listen properly to questions and get in a mess as a result.
It is also important for a witness to remember to whom they are giving evidence. It is not the person asking the questions. It is the Judge, jury or magistrates depending on the court. Therefore, the witness should make sure that they are looking at the right person when they answer. This is actually harder than it sounds because in almost all conversations we reply to the person who speaks, It feels rude to look away and talk to someone else when replying. However, it must be done, it is after all hard for a judge to assess the credibility of a witness if all he can see is an ear.
Another guiding principle is that the correct answer to every question is the shortest answer that adequately answers the question. “
There are other things that are important to being a credible witness including staying calm, preparing properly and not getting into arguments with the lawyer. If a witness is properly prepared and follows the tips in this blog then they stand a good chance of being believed by the court.