During a hearing, evidence is presented in a fairly structured way. Each witness gives evidence and is cross-examined. Witnesses tell the story in chronological order and then are cross-examined in roughly the same way.
This is a good system for hearing evidence. The logistical challenges of doing anything else would be considerable. Hearing evidence on an incident by incident basis, with witnesses stepping up and down in rapid succession, then returning when the tribunal moved onto the next part of the case would quickly create chaos.
The disadvantage of the system is that a lot of what witnesses say when giving evidence is not terribly important. Important answers can easily get lost in the crowd. Also, where more than one witness is giving evidence about a subject, the relevant evidence can get spread out and hard to follow.
Submissions, however, are an opportunity to draw the tribunal’s attention to patterns that are not clear while evidence is being given.
There are a number of ways of doing this. Below are two examples.
Collecting a single witness’ answers on a particular issue
It is notable how little Mr Smith could remember on certain key issues.
In cross examination he was asked:
- “Did you speak to HR, before writing to Ms Jones?” He replied, “I don’t know. I might have.”
- “Did you read your company’s guidance on disciplinary procedures before your meeting with Ms Jones?” He replied, “I don’t remember.”
- “Did you talk to anyone about how to run a disciplinary procedure?” He replied, “I think I did, but I can’t say for sure.”
Even taking his evidence at its strongest, it is plain that Mr Smith has no clear recollection of taking any steps to establish his responsibilities in running a disciplinary procedure. His statement at paragraph 5 of his witness statement that “I had not run a disciplinary process before, but I took steps to make sure I understood what I had to do” is simply not credible.
Collecting a number of witnesses’ answers on an issue
It is apparent from the evidence of Gubbin’s managers they were confused about who was responsible for dismissing Ms Jones. Mr Smith, Mr Green, Mr Adams and Ms Watson were all asked who made the final decision.
- Mr Smith said “It was a HR issue, so Mr Adams would have done the final sign-off.”
- Mr Green said “I’m not sure, but I expect Mr Smith would have had the final say. He was her direct manager.”
- Mr Adams said “That would have been Ms Watson. She was the senior manager.”
- Ms Watson said “I was advising, but ultimately it was Mr Adams who made the decision.
The technique is the same in both examples. By extracting important parts of the witnesses’ evidence in relation to a single issue and presenting them together, the point becomes obvious.