10 Tips for first time witnesses

10 Tips for first time witnesses

CategoryArticles Author Jonathan Darby Date

This article, written by Jon Darby, was first published in the Spring Edition of the RTPI East of England Newsletter. 

For many, giving evidence before Inspectors is second nature. This short article is aimed at those readers who are not so familiar with the inquiry process. Those who are inexperienced, unsure or simply looking for a few practical tips,please read on!

1. Know your evidence.

There is no such thing as knowing your proof too well. You cannot read it enough. Know it inside out and ensure that by the time you are asked to adopt its contents you are entirely happy with the same; comfortable with its associated logic, reasoning and references. Ask colleagues to comment upon draft versions in order to assess the accuracy and cogency of your reasoning.

2. Identify any weaknesses.

Once you have worked through a number of drafts and had them reviewed by others you should be able identify any residual weaknesses in your reasoning, the evidence or your case. Take the opportunity to address them. Consider issuing a rebuttal proof if the other side has challenged specific points. Furthermore, if your reasoning has weaknesses then consider carefully how you will address them in evidence. Most important of all, be prepared to address them during cross-examination because if you have spotted them it is very likely that the other side has too.

3. Be reasonable and make appropriate concessions.

Stubbornly sticking to your case notwithstanding any weaknesses that you might have identified does more to damage to your credibility than it does in furthering your case.

4. Share knowledge and experiences.

Linked to points 1 and 2 above, discuss your written evidence with your colleagues and your advocate. Work through draft versions to refine your arguments and reasoning. Discuss your colleagues’ experiences giving evidence prior to your inquiry. Forewarned is forearmed.

5. Deliver your evidence clearly and logically.

Speak up and look the Inspector in the eye. Speak more slowly than usual, as the Inspector and others will be taking a detailed note of what you are saying. Should Counsel or the Inspector repeat one of your answers back to you make sure that you listen carefully. The accuracy and detail is important.

6. Familiarise yourself with the documents.

Make sure you are able to take Counsel and the Inspector to any supporting documents, annexes, plans, maps and drawings with confidence and assurance. Check that the Document bundles have been properly divided and labeled before you start giving evidence.

7. Listen to the question. If necessary repeat it back.

Make sure that you answer the question directly. If you want to qualify your answer ensure that you are given the opportunity to do so. Avoid agreeing with the Inspector or others just for the sake of it. If you disagree be prepared to say so and explain why.

8. Avoid unnecessary repetition.

Stay on the point and do not ramble on for the sake of appearing as if you know what you are on about – it is never convincing! If there is nothing much to say, be brief, clear and to the point.

9. Take your time.

If you need a few moments’ thinking time then ask for it. You are entitled to consider your answer for a moment, just as it is perfectly acceptable to check your papers and notes. Compose your thoughts before answering.

10. Do not panic!

It is important to remember that there is a reason why you have been asked to provide evidence and it is likely to be because you have some expertiseor knowledge of the matters in issue. As such, with preparation and composure there is no need for even inexperienced witnesses to find the inquiry process as daunting and intimidating as it may at first appear.

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