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Character statements

A lot of litigants present character references to the tribunal. These tend to be short statements or letters written by people who know the litigant saying, in effect: ‘Mr Smith is a good and honest man, who certainly would / wouldn’t have….’

A common variation is statements about the other side saying, more or less: ‘Ms Jones is a nasty and dishonest person, who certainly would / wouldn’t have….’

This makes a certain amount of sense. An important part of the tribunal’s role is to decide who to believe. So the character of the parties, good or bad, is important.

But these statements are rarely, if ever, of any use.

The reason for this is simple. Even the most despicable and dishonest man can arrange for half a dozen people to write a few lines saying what a good guy they are. And even a Saint will have a few enemies. The tribunal, who has never heard of these people before, will have no means of assessing their truthfulness or their judgement. So the statements don’t make anyone’s character any clearer.

This problem might be addressed by calling witnesses to give evidence. Then the tribunal would have the opportunity to examine their truthfulness and judgement. But this adds little to what the tribunal will already consider. So far as it is possible to judge such things from witnesses they will do so with the litigant himself. There is no need to abandon this in favour of judging his character witnesses, then using the conclusion on them to judge the litigant.

Apart from anything else, it would quickly become absurd once people began calling character witnesses in support of their character witnesses.

For these reasons, character evidence should not be presented in most cases. At best it has no impact at all and it may cause harm, if only by annoying or boring the tribunal.

The exception is where witnesses can give specific evidence about previous events that follow a similar pattern to the claimant’s case. For example, in a racial harassment case, evidence that the supervisor, Mr Smith, behaved abusively to another black worker is potentially relevant. Evidence that Mr Smith is generally dishonest almost certainly isn’t.

Even when dealing with similar previous events, you should be cautious. Be sure that the evidence is really relevant and reasonably compelling. Otherwise, you risk clouding your case with arguments about other matters, that actually have little to do with it.

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