How to Prepare a Witness Statement
There is no legal requirement for a party in a small claims case to prepare a witness statement. The strict rules of evidence do not apply and it is common for parties to represent themselves. Small claims hearings are often more like a discussion between the parties and the judge than a formal trial. However, simply because there is no requirement to produce a witness statement, it does not mean that there is no value in having done so.
The Advantages of Having a Witness StatementPreparing a witness statement can give a party the chance to get their case and documents in order. A witness statement should tell the judge (and the other side) exactly what the party’s case is. If this has already been put in a witness statement there is less danger that the party will forget to mention something important on the day of the hearing. Sitting in a court room can do funny things to people’s brains – it is much easier to get the facts straight in the comfort of one’s own home.
If a party provides the court with a witness statement the judge will probably have had the chance to read it before the hearing begins. This will mean more time can be spent deciding the case rather than going over the facts.
The Format of a Witness StatementIn the small claims court it is unlikely that a judge would criticize a litigant in person for having failed to follow the proper format for a witness statement. However, there are some basic points which will make a witness statement more useful:
- The witness statement should give the name and claim number of the case at the top of the first page. Putting this information on each page will avoid pages being lost if they come apart.
- The witness statement should state in bold at the top whose witness statement it is.
- Pages should be paginated and fastened together.
- Before setting out the background of the case the witness statement’s first paragraph should give the name and address of the person giving the statement and explain their involvement with the case.
- Paragraphs should be numbered.
- If the Witness Statement is more than a couple of pages long it may be helpful to break it down into sub headings, for example: The Agreement; The Works; The Damage; The Repairs etc.
- The witness statement should be dated, and must be signed by the person making it.
Contents of a Witness Statement – Facts Not LawA witness statement should tell a party’s story. All the facts of the case should be set out in chronological order. It is important to only include statements which the maker knows to be true. If a party does not know something for sure, but suspects it to be true, it should be expressed as a belief.
Witness statements are not really meant to contain legal arguments. However, if a legal point has been raised by the other party, or is likely to be raised, this could be addressed in the witness statement by reference to the facts of the case. For example, the defendant has said in their defence that the claimant should not be allowed to bring the claim because he waited more than six years to do so. This raises the legal issue of limitation. The claimant might respond to this in their witness statement by saying that he did not wait too long because until last year the defendant had kept promising to pay and even made some small token payments.
Witness Statements and ExhibitsIn telling the party’s story the witness statement may refer to various documents that support the story. For example: contracts, invoices, letters etc. Copies of all of these documents should be attached at the end of the witness statement, in the same order as they are mentioned in the statement. When a document is referred to in the witness statement (for the first time), the statement should say that a copy of it is attached. Each exhibit should be labelled with a separate letter or number, which will be referred to in the witness statement. For example: “I attach at Exhibit A a copy of the invoice I sent to the defendant”.
The Statement of TruthAll witness statements must contain a statement of truth. The witness statement must include the following words:
- I believe that the facts stated in this witness statement are true.