Witness statements contain the evidence in support of your case. As such your witness statement is critical and winning or losing might well turn on how witness statements are prepared. If something you wish to put before the court is not in a witness statement it might not be allowed. In most cases a witness will just confirm what is said in their witness statement at the trial and not be able to add to it. Although the strict rules do not apply to small claim cases you are going to impress the judge and show the other side you know what you are at by putting in a well prepared and professional witness statement.
Preparing a witness statement
Preparing a witness statement is hard work and takes time. It should not be left to the last moment. Usually it will take several drafts before you are satisfied with the final version. It must contain all the relevant facts of which the witness is aware and also comply with the formal requirements in Practice Direction 32. These require that the witness statement must:
• Have the Heading of the case. In addition, the surname of the witness, the party on whose behalf the statement is made and the number and date of the statement should be put in the top right corner.
• Contain the witnesses full name, address, occupation or description and confirm whether or not a party to the proceedings. If not a party it should say the relationship, if any, with, any party to the case. If the statement is made in a professional capacity it show the address at which the witness works, the position held and the name of the firm or employer,
• State the source of what is said or whether it is from the witnesses own knowledge and belief.
• Identify and verify as true any exhibits. be verified by a statement of truth.
• Signed and verified by a Statement of Truth such as ‘I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true’.
Writing the witness statement
Your witness statement should be typed on one side of A4 paper with 3.5 margins. The pages should all be numbered and the content set out in numbered paragraphs with each paragraph dealing with a specific item of your evidence. It should deal with events in a chronological sequence. All numbers including dates should be shown in figures. Make sure that you explain the source of your information and what you say.
Write in your own words and in your own style as if you were giving oral evidence (which in effect you are). Avoid legal jargon-it is not needed and not appreciated. Describe things from your perspective. Attach as exhibits any corroborative or supporting evidence. If you are claiming damages make sure you explain the causal link between the event and the loss you have suffered.
Give dates whenever possible as this will show that you are certain about what you say. If you are not certain about the exact date, be as close as you can remember, or relate it to some other event. Always be as specific as possible. Do not just say you were told something. Say by whom, when and where.
Do not include your opinion
A witness statement is not the place for opinion (unless you are an expert witness) or for you to put forward your argument in support of your case. Keep it to the facts known or seen. It is permissible however to explain the reasons behind actions if this seems necessary. But be wary of rambling on. Judges do not like long rambling witness statements containing acres of irrelevant material.
When drafting your witness statement have in your mind what you have to show to prove your claim or undermine what is alleged against you. Set this out clearly and as concisely as you can but make sure you do not miss out any events or incidents which go towards proving your case. Avoid hearsay whenever possible. This is evidence of what you have been told or know from someone else and on which you do not have personal knowledge.