Without doubt appearing as a witness in a tribunal case is very daunting and nerve wrecking for most. Nothing compares to the real thing. But there are steps you can take to bolster your confidence and provide yourself with the best opportunity to give your best evidence.
So here are my 10 Golden Rules:
- Be honest. This should be an obvious one but, on occasion, witnesses can try to overthink the question and try to predict where it is leading to, rather than answer it in a straightforward way. If you are not honest, chances are you will be tripped up later with inconsistencies in what you say.
- Prepare, prepare and prepare. There is an ocean of difference between a witness who has reviewed all documents and has prepared, to one that comes along thinking this won’t be too difficult.
- Listen to the question being asked and answer it. Not the question for which you have prepared the answer or the one you would like to be asked.
- Treat time as your friend, not your enemy. Take your time to think about the question you have been asked, pause and then answer it. Time doesn’t travel as fast as you think it does.
- Once you’ve have answered the question, STOP. Don’t be tempted to continue to fill in the gaps between the end of your answer and the next question (dare I say waffle?). This is where most witnesses open themselves up to further cross examination.
- Follow the pen. No this is not a metaphor. Literally pace your answer to the speed of the Judge’s pen. As archaic as it sounds, the Judge makes a handwritten note of the question asked and your answer. They will become extremely irritated at you if, after one or two gentle reminders, you don’t take heed and follow the pen.
- Remain calm. At no stage should you argue with the person cross examining you. Never, ever ask them a question such as ‘well, what would you have done?’ You will lose the respect of the panel plus scored a home goal, so to speak. You are there to answer the questions not ask them (unless you genuinely don’t understand what they are asking, then of course do ask). And remember you are trying to persuade a panel of 3, not win an argument with the cross examiner.
- Do not avoid the difficult questions. Sometimes you’ve got to accept where matters could have been handled better or other valid criticisms. Your preparation (see 2 above) will have helped you work through these areas. It does not necessarily mean you’ve lost your case but you will come across as a more credible and reasonable witness.
- Listen carefully to any questions the Employment Judge or panel ask. These are the areas they maybe struggling with or in some instances where they may not have fully understood the case.
- Finally, if your representative asks you a question in re-examination chances are your representative thinks you’ve got something wrong and they are asking you to rethink your answer.
These rules (and I could give more) are very much based on my experience of appearing for, and presenting Tribunal cases on behalf of employers for over 15 years. As I said, nothing is like the real life so GOOD LUCK and don’t be too hard on yourself!
Michelle McGinley, Employment Lawyer