A lot of people assume that giving evidence at Court is exactly like it appears on the television. It isn’t. A recent article in The Times (January 19th) by Frances Gibb reports that “Crime victims to get expert help on coping with hostile lawyers in court”. Her report explains that how victims of crimes will be briefed on how to give evidence in court, and how to cope with hostile cross-examination.
We have long since commented on how foreboding the court process is. However we tend to view it from the vantage point of the defendants on trial
Giving evidence when your livelihood might be at stake, not to mention the potential prospect of a subsequent prison sentence, is the most daunting experience most defendants will ever face. It is worth remembering that a person is presumed innocent till proven guilty; however how the evidence is delivered by the defendant is paramount in convincing those who need convincing of the true facts of a case.
Just imagine: you’re in a large airless and windowless room being faced by ranks of lawyers and a panel of jurors with whom you’re afraid to make eye contact. You’re on your own. Desperate to put up a good fight; scared you’ll be tongue-tied, tripped up or caught out and if you get it wrong you may be thrown into planet prison, you’re family thrown into crisis, the potential loss of a career, home etc the list goes on. You probably haven’t had a good night’s sleep for weeks and you can’t think straight.
In the weeks before the trial your lawyers may have given you some tips: wear smart clothes, don’t mumble, address your answers to the Judge. All good advice.
But that’s probably about as much as they will tell you. They will have more important things to do on your case, and if your lawyer is being paid by Legal Aid the chances are they simply won’t have the time to spend on making you feel a little less in dread and awe of the witness box.
A case in point. We had a client who came to us late on in a very long trial. The evidence against our client was weak and the likelihood of acquittal was strong. Yet our client still faced the prospect of the trial and getting the true facts across so that the Jury would understand and return the correct verdict. Why would this person come to us if they are innocent you may ask? The answer is simple….prison was the likely outcome should the jury return a guilty verdict, so the client wanted to prepare in case the jury got it wrong. And don’t forget, even the most hard -hearted cynic has to accept that sometimes the jury get it wrong. That’s why we have appeals.
Our client was successful in being acquitted of all charges, we helped our client by taking away the fear of the unknown and making our client more effective….even so our client was so traumatised by the whole event that our client has not worked since and is suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) . As explained, we became involved late in the proceedings, perhaps if we had been called in earlier this complex condition may also have been avoided.
We help. We help people facing the prospect of having to defend themselves by advising on what it is like to give evidence. Unlike your lawyers, we have been through it. We know that if you are not properly prepared for what to expect you will spend your first day in Court feeling like Alice felt in Wonderland. And that might influence how you give evidence.
We don’t coach people. That’s not allowed. What we do is try and make people feel as comfortable as possible before they give evidence. We explain the court procedure, the court rules, the court jargon and the things to avoid doing and saying. It just might make all the difference.
We take the away the fear of the unknown.