How to write a Witness Statement
If you are a party (a claimant, applicant, defendant or respondent) to civil or family proceedings (i.e. not criminal) you will need to make a statement and get it filed with the court papers (known as ‘filing a statement’). Evidence at a trial is given orally ( i.e. by giving evidence in the witness box) by witnesses who have filed a written statement. So unless you have filed a statement you would not usually be allowed to give evidence. Your statement will be seen before the trial by the other side and you will see theirs. In other words what both sides will say is known to their opponent before the hearing starts.
The court will tell you when and how the statements are to be produced. Do what the court orders. If your statement has to be filed by a certain date, get it filed by that date.
All the paragraphs must be numbered and be in legible, typed form, so use a fairly large font. It is best to keep the paragraphs fairly short and only deal with one issue per paragraph.
If you refer to any documents or other supporting evidence it must be disclosed for the other side and the court to see and it must be attached to your statement.
There are 4 golden rules about how statements should be written to allow it to be used in the court process.
1. Tell the story in chronological order;
Remember the Judge comes to the case not knowing the facts. You have to tell the story. Cover all the necessary background in chronological order but don’t include unnecessary information as it can be a distraction and make the reader switch off. So be clear and concise. If you’ve created lots of long repetitive records you may have to prune them to keep the statement to the point. But include everything you think might be important because you want it to be in the evidence before the court and if you don’t include it it may be not admissible. When in doubt include rather than exclude. Do stick to a chronological order because if not it can be very confusing to someone who comes to the story fresh.
It’s a statement of facts not opinions; so
2. Write down all the facts;
Once the statements are exchanged you’ll see the factual issues that are not agreed by you and your opponent. Try to make sure that all issues you can deal with are covered in your statement and those of your witnesses if you have any. If an issue is not covered by any one of your witnesses see if you can find a witness to cover it.
3. Don’t give opinions;
Confine your statement and those of any of your witnesses to the facts that you and they know. Don’t express any opinions. Only expert witnesses can give opinion evidence. Stick to the rules.
4. Tell the complete truth;
Most importantly the statement must be true. You will sign it below what’s called a statement of truth, which must be included at the end of your statement – “ I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true”. If you make a statement which is false you are guilty of contempt of order and could be punished for it. So be very clear and accurate. Don’t tell lies or exaggerate.
Make sure you check the statement, whether it’s been prepared by you or anyone else, carefully before signing it. Any statements should be in your own words. It’s your statement, no one else’s. You have to answer for it in court. The same goes for your witnesses supporting your case. If there’s anything wrong with it don’t sign it. You don’t want to be questioned in court about something that’s not true or incorrect. Make absolutely sure it’s right. Making false statements can get you into terrible trouble.
The format of a statement:
Witness statements must:
- Start with the name of the case and the claim/case number;
- State your full name and address;
- Set out your evidence clearly in numbered paragraphs on numbered pages;
- End with: ‘I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true.’ and
- Be signed by you and dated.
Here is a typical layout for a witness statement (headings are in capitals – fill in the gaps between the square brackets):
IN THE [ ] COUNTY COURT. CASE NUMBER [ ]
CLAIMANT or APPLICANT [ ]
DEFENDANT or RESPONDENT [. ]
- I [name in full] of [full address] am the [applicant] in this case and I make this statement from my personal knowledge.
I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true.
Note: Use ‘claimant’ and ‘defendant’ in civil proceedings and ‘applicant’ and ‘respondent’ in family proceedings.
Explanations of commonly used terms you might hear:
Affidavit A written sworn statement of evidence.
Examination in chief The evidence of you or your witnesses
Cross examination Questioning of you or a witness of yours at a hearing by opponent
Privilege The right to refuse to disclose a document, produce a document or to answer questions on the grounds of some special interest recognised by law.
Directions Procedural orders made by a court to manage cases