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How Witness Statements are Used

By: Louise Smith, barrister - Updated: 26 Feb 2018 | comments*Discuss
Witness Statement Small Claims

There is no general requirement for a party in a small claims trial to use a witness statement. However, in some small claims cases the court may give directions that witness statements are to be produced.

The Purpose of Witness Statements

A witness statement gives a party or witness the opportunity to set out their version of the facts of a case in a calm and considered way. They can take as much time as they want to make sure that everything is included. The witness statement should include all the information that the judge needs to reach the right decision in the case.

A witness statement should be a statement of all the facts that a witness knows about the claim. If the witness is stating something that they believe to be true they should specify this and say why they have this belief. A witness statement is not the place for arguments or opinions – only those facts that the witness knows to be true.

Service of Witness Statements

If a party intends to rely on a witness statement they must send a copy to the other side and to the court prior to the hearing. If the court has given any special directions requiring the parties to produce witness statements, the statements should be served in accordance with those directions.

Format of Witness Statements

The Civil Procedure Rules give detailed guidance on the required format for witness statements. These requirements do not strictly apply to small claims trials and a judge is likely to give a litigant in person some leeway if they produce a witness statement. However, a witness statement will be of far more use to the court, and more credible, if it follows the guidelines. In particular, a witness statement should:
  • Contain the full name and address of the witness and explain their involvement with the case;
  • Make clear whether the witness knows a statement to be true or just believes it to be true;
  • Be clearly typed, or written – preferably on only one side of the paper. Pages should be paginated and fastened together;
  • Be divided up into numbered paragraphs;
  • Set out the facts in a logical - probably chronological - order;
  • Refer to and clearly identify any exhibits attached to the witness statement;
  • Contain a statement of truth;
  • Be signed by the witness.

Use of Witness Statements in a Small Claims Hearing

Small claims hearings are usually given relatively short time slots. If a party has produced a witness statement the judge will have a good idea of their case before the hearing starts. Even if he has not had the chance to read the witness statement before the trial, it will still be quicker for the judge to read the witness statement than to elicit the same information from the witness or party during the course of the hearing.

The judge is likely to ask the witness some questions about their witness statement. He may want the witness to confirm that the statement is theirs, that the signature on it is theirs and that it gives a true account of the facts of the case. The judge may also ask questions which expand on the information contained in the witness statement.

The other side may be invited to ask any questions they have, arising out of the witness statement. Traditionally the other side will seek to cast doubt on any facts which damage their case or support the case of the party who has produced the witness statement.

Failure of a Witness to Attend the Hearing

It is quite common for a party to produce a witness statement for a small claims case but for the witness not to attend the hearing. If a witness fails to attend, his evidence cannot be challenged by the other side. In these circumstances it is open to the judge to take into account the witness’s failure to attend when he decides how much weight to give to his evidence.

The small claims procedure states that a party to a small claims case can write to the court asking for the case to be heard in their absence, based on the written evidence provided. If they do so the judge will take any witness statements into account when reaching a decision on the case.

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Hello I am the claimant in a small claim. I produced my witness statement in line with the Court order which I received in December 2017. The defendant failed to produce his witness statement instead claiming that he had not received the Court order (he somehow managed to contact the Court 3 days before the hearing to ask for details if when the Court hearing would be). The judge adjourned the hearing and gave the defendant a further 2 weeks to produce his statement. In the statement he has now finally produced, he has (1) referenced my own statement and (2) made allegations that only 3rd parties would be able to answer. Can I disclose his statement to those 3rd parties for their answers and produce them to the Court prior to the hearing to save going to a 3rd hearing? Or can I ask for the answers from the 3rd parties and disclose their answers at the hearing. Advice on best course of action please? Thanks
Firsty11 - 26-Feb-18 @ 8:50 AM
I submitted further information for the hearing court date but I didn't submit witness statement. It happened as I had no experience of this. I am not sure if there will be any problem with the case because of this misunderstanding. Could you please advise me how to deal in this case. Best regards,
Not Nickname - 6-Sep-15 @ 12:43 PM
@Meena - the small claims mediation service is usually a free service provided by the civil courts for people involved in a small claims disputes and will help with the parties in disputes to reach terms of settlement. Whether to go to mediation is usually decided by the judge if he/she thinks it can be resolved without going through court.
PV - 5-Mar-15 @ 2:48 PM
My landlord not protect diposit in scheem.as i kept house in good condition i ask my diposit back. He said he diduct some money i have to agree for that then he retun diposit. I did not agree it is small wear andtear.he put counter claim.( Aftet i came bak from holiday . I recive cheqe after diducten of diposit) Now case in counter claim hearing in two month. I have lots of witness. Now court ask me to pay hearing fee. And on the latter says " after redaing papers judge thing thos should go to mediation. Need some adivice.
meena - 4-Mar-15 @ 10:12 AM
I am defendant LIP.the opponent lawyer has made an application about on order. i then made an application for her application to be dismissed on certain grounds and costs of doing that ---all valid , she then wrote another witness in defense of my application ... Should I canI write another witness statement to set the court right again.There is a hearing on the 9 dec, just about the hearing and further case management. ?
ger carratu - 4-Dec-14 @ 12:54 PM
I am a claimant in a small claims case. My claim is against an organisation. Can I request individuals from that organisation attend Court?
J - 27-Sep-14 @ 6:28 PM
can the other side contact our medical expert and ask questions before we have been to court can a judge take from another judge a case can a judge pick and chose his case or do thay have to do what the courts give them
big t - 18-Feb-14 @ 8:34 AM
I'm preparing myself for a case and need to understand if an affidavit can be used to replace a witness and/or witness statement.Would anyone know this and exactly when an affidavit can/should be used? Thanks.
defendant - 20-Jul-13 @ 8:06 PM
I recently attend a small claim as the claimant and defended the claims against me and made a counter claim. I had produced a detail witness statement to support my defence and counter claim consisting of 30 pages as the claimant was making several claims against me. The hearing lasted 1 day. The judge had not read my witness statement before or at the hearing. No judgement was made but I expect to hear of the judgement in 1-2 weeks. I was not allowed to read my witness statement at the hearing and this worried me as if when the judge reads it, he may have questions or does not understand somethingI will not be present to answer them. The same happened with my other witness statements.
victim - 21-Feb-13 @ 10:15 PM
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