A few words on witness statements
Tribunals nowadays always expect witnesses to have written statements. Sometimes these are very long, sometimes very short. There are a few basic tips for all lengths:
- Never use less than 12 point typeface – you will only irritate the tribunal if the statement is in tiny print. And double spacing may not save trees, but it allows room for the tribunal members to make notes, and it’s easier to read.
- Always, always, always number the paragraphs. If you don’t know why, you will find out if you turn up to the hearing with several pages of statements with the paragraphs not numbered.
- Statements are meant to contain evidence – that is, information known to the witness, directly if possible. If the information comes from someone else, it is hearsay, which is admissible in tribunals but doesn’t carry as much weight as if it was being confirmed by the person with the direct knowledge.
- Don’t pad out your witness statements with arguments about the merits of your case. But on the other hand do make sure the statement covers all the relevant points the witness can cover. It reduces the credibility of evidence if it only emerges part way through the hearing and wasn’t mentioned in the witness statement. It is difficult to know what is relevant, and understandable if you err on the side of incuding too much, but think in terms of what points you have to show to make out the case – and don’t forget what you have to show to get the maximum compensation you can justify (if you are the claimant) or points that will reduce compensation (if you are the respondent).
- Tribunals are not mind readers. They will only be able to take into account the evidence you give them, either through witnesses or in documents they are asked to read. They will probably not understand the jargon or abbreviations used in the particular industry the case is about, and cetrtainly won’t know who Joe Bloggs is, unless someone tells them. Put explanations of this kind of point in the witness statements – it saves the tribunal having to ask.
- It is tempting to gloss over awkward facts, or simply leave them out. Bad idea. When the full picture comes out – as it nearly always does – it just makes the rest of the witness’s evidence less believable.
Peter Wallington QC is a barrister specialising in employment law at 11KBW, editor of Butterworths Employment Law Handbook, and a part-time employment judge.