How to prepare a witness statement
If you have a legal case in a Court, the Judge will make a decision based on the evidence that is presented to him or her. The main source of evidence is the oral evidence of the witnesses that appear in Court. In civil cases, before the trial or hearing, the witness will usually (with the assistance of lawyers), prepare a witness statement that will be filed at the Court and provided to the other parties, so that all parties can be prepared for the hearing before-hand.
A witness statement is a document that sets out what a witness says about your case. Often, the main source of evidence will be from the party, and so if you are involved in a court case, you will probably have to prepare a statement setting out your evidence that supports your case. In other words, in your civil case, you are often the key witness.
The witness statement must be in a form that complies with the rules of evidence. Most importantly, it should only include facts that you know from your own experience. It cannot include your opinions, or reports of facts that you have heard from other people (hearsay).
A witness statement is not the place to include your arguments about why you should win your case. Those arguments are made separately (called submissions), and the witness statement is the source of facts on which the submissions rely.
How to prepare a witness statement
If you are legally represented, your lawyer will prepare your witness statement by meeting with you and asking you questions. He or she will use your answers to prepare a witness statement that complies with the rules of evidence, and which will best support your case.
However, you can assist your lawyer, and so save substantial time and money, by preparing a draft witness statement yourself which is the best way to provide your lawyer with the information required to prepare your case. You will also need to prepare your own witness statement if you don’t have a lawyer.
The witness statement will start by identifying the witness in a particular form: I, George Clooney of Unit 14/7 Pitt Street, Victoria Park, in the State of Western Australia, circus performer, say as follows:
Then you set out your evidence in numbered paragraphs, noting the following important points:
- It is almost always best to describe events in date order – start at the beginning and don’t jump around.
- If the case is complicated, then you might tell several different “stories” under separate headings, each one in date order.
- Include one fact or idea per paragraph.
- Don’t summarise or give conclusions, instead, set out the facts as they occurred; as you saw them, or heard them. For example:
On or around 25 October 2012 I met with James at his house in Subiaco. He said to me words to the effect “Do you want to buy my car for $5,000?”. I replied to James “Yes, I’ll give you $5,000 for it.”
On or around 25 October 2012 I met with James at his house in Subiaco and agreed to buy his car for $5,000.
- Refer specifically to every single document that is relevant to your case. For example “On 25 October 2012 I sent an email to David Parker at 12pm, attaching a signed copy of the Lease”.
- Compile all of the documents referred to in the witness statement in a folder, in date order.
- Wherever possible, state the date or approximate date of every event. If you can’t remember the date, (and can’t find out by looking at records), put in a range. For example “On or around 12 July 2010” or “In or around early 2011”, or “Some time between September 2009 and October 2011”.
- If you remember the exact words that someone said, then state them in quotation marks, for example: “On or around 25 August 2013, Steven telephoned me at around 3pm, and I specifically recall that during the conversation he said “I am only going to buy the boat, if David agrees to pay half”.
- If you can’t remember the exact words, but you remember the substance of the statement, then say so, for example: “I don’t recall exactly what Steven said when he telephoned me during the afternoon of 25 August 2013, but I recall that it was words to the effect “I won’t buy the boat unless David pays 50% of the purchase price”.