Lessons I Have Learnt From Drafting My First Witness Statement!
There are so many stages in life that we go through, many of which are ticked off our bucket/goals list. The stage of growing up, getting to university, graduating, starting the new job in the big city, qualifying, growing up again (which seems like a never-ending contract less job) and so on. My list has had so many ‘unexpected entries’ as well as so many yet to be ticked off.
One of the unexpected entries was drafting my own witness statement. This may not sound like a big deal to a four or five year qualified lawyer, but to someone like me, this was a big step in my career. I finally feel like I have grown up and what I do is actually very important (not that it was a joke before) which has a big impact on my clients, and one not to take for granted.
When you are assisting in drafting a witness statement, whether for a client or for a solicitor, you need to ensure that you comply with the Civil Procedure Rules (“CPR”) as well as ensuring the right facts are stated.
Some of the key criteria for drafting a witness statement are:
- Each witness statement must comply with the CPR as stated above, in relation to (but not limited to) form and contents for use at trial or hearings.
- There are also specific requirements for the format of a witness statement such as (but not limited to), it being legible, or contain paragraph numbers and page numbers, and in some cases not exceed a certain number of pages, etc
- A well drafted witness statement should also have headings, sub-headings (if possible)
- It should be in the intended witness’ own words and be expressed in first person
- It must indicate the source of any information or belief
- If you are referring to an exhibit or more than one exhibit, they should be numbered and properly referred to in the body of the witness statement
- If you are stating a fact, ensure you have an evidence to back it up and further, use that evidence as an exhibit to the witness statement
- Re-read or even triple read the draft before sending it to a client or file/serve it – it is never a good look for a law firm to submit a witness statement on behalf of their client that contains typos and errors
- The substance of a witness statement should cover all the disputed facts, each paragraph should contain one or more statement of facts in chronological order and do not forget who has the burden of proving each fact
One of the most important parts of a witness statement is the ‘statement of truth’, a witness statement must be verified and needs to be signed. If a person verifies a witness statement that contains false statement(s)/facts without honest belief in its truth, proceedings for contempt of court maybe brought against that person. Therefore, it is important to bring this to the attention of the person signing the statement and ensuring they have read it thoroughly and are happy with its contents. You will also need to show them the exhibits so that they know what is being referred to.
The above list is not exhaustive and the more you draft a witness statement, the better you get at it especially if it is your own. I do believe I have a long way to go to master this skill but I have learned how important it is to be on top of everything. Keep a record of everything you do, every phone call, every chaser email, be proactive at every stage of the game, don’t sit back waiting for things to happen, it is our job to go after answers and try every option to get the results, in this way you show you are working for the client’s best interest and you have done whatever you can as their representative
It can be scary to sign a witness statement because you need to make sure every fact is true and nothing is contrary to what you believe to be the case (you do not want to be held in contempt of the court, even by mistakenly stating something that you thought to be true). This is where drafting skills come into play and proper knowledge of the matter at hand
Author Sabra Farmand has several years of experience in complex litigation and international arbitration matters. She has vast knowledge of English procedural rules and has dealt with clients from South America, Middle East and Europe and speaks several languages; Farsi (native), English (professional and legal level), Arabic, Chinese (elementary level)