If you need to prove something and you don’t have any documents to help you, or you have documents but they need to be explained, you may need to prepare witness evidence. It is what you or another witness say to the court about your case.
Witness evidence takes two forms:
(1) Witness statements
You have to prepare witness statements from all your witnesses well before the trial. There are rules about what a witness statement should look like and include. Both sides have to exchange the witness statements which have been prepared for their own witnesses to help each other see the strength and weaknesses of each other’s cases. See ‘How to sue’ – Witness statements – for more information and an example witness statement.
Each witness’s evidence has to be about the facts and based on their own knowledge or belief. Witnesses must make it clear whether what they say in their statement is from their own knowledge, or a matter of information or belief. They must also say what the source of any matters of information or belief is.
You shouldn’t include statements which are just your opinion about something. Only an expert witness, such as an engineer or a doctor can do this, when they give evidence about something they are experts in, and which is relevant to the dispute. For example, a medical expert’s opinion about whether or not you will fully recover from an accident.
Where possible choose an independent witness (not a member of your family or a friend) to give evidence because unlike your family and friends they don’t have an interest in the outcome. If the only witnesses are family or friends, and sometimes they will be the only witnesses, you need to do your best to ensure that their witness statements are as factual and neutral as possible.
It may be that you are the only person other than the defendant who was involved in the relevant events. In that case, you may need to prepare a witness statement for yourself, explaining to the court any points which you are unable to deal with using documents, or where you do have documents but they need explaining.
Try to get witness statements as early as possible, especially from strangers Witnesses are likely to be able to recall details more easily shortly after an incident than if you ask them some time afterwards. If your witnesses include strangers they may no longer be contactable at the contact details they have given you, or they may lose interest or change their minds about helping if you leave it too long.
(2) Oral evidence
Oral evidence is spoken evidence. You may also hear this kind of evidence called oral testimony or witness evidence.
Witnesses may be required to give oral evidence at trial about the things they have said in their witness statement, if the other parry does not accept the witness’s evidence and wishes to cross-examine them.
Hearsay is second hand evidence, where a witness gives evidence of a fact based on what was said to them by someone else.
Example of hearsay evidence:
‘I got a local handyman to do some house repairs while I was out at work. He invoiced me for five hours work, but my neighbour told me that she’d been chatting to the handyman, and he’d told her it was only two hours’ work, and he was expecting to be on his way before lunch’.
So, if the neighbour won’t or can’t be a witness, that part of your witness statement which includes the neighbour’s account will be ‘hearsay’. A civil court accept hearsay evidence provided the witness giving the hearsay evidence will be available to give oral evidence at trial if required. However, the court is likely to give it much less weight than other forms of evidence, because it’s not something you saw or heard yourself.