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Giving Evidence in Court


evidence does not amount to a conversation with a barrister merely observed by others. Tis also has the advantage of reducing the risk of a subsequent set of questions from a hostile answer being accompanied by aggressive body language and eye contact. It is also easier to concentrate if you do not look at the person asking a question; however, rude it may feel not to look at the questioner, it is not, and will not be perceived to be so by the court.


Some court rooms will have poor acoustics so it is important to speak loudly and clearly. Judges will often take detailed handwritten notes of the evidence given; and if you speak too fast you will be told to slow down; try to speak at a rate that ‘follows the judge’s pen’.


Te examination in chief, which is conducted by the legal representative who instructed you to prepare your written report, cannot include leading questions.


Tis part of proceedings will typically start with the expert being invited to describe their experience and qualification.


Te judge will have seen your report, but the jury will not. You will likely be asked to speak to, and explain, different aspects of your report. Simply reading out aloud what you have written is likely to appear clumsy and runs the risk of losing the attention of the jury. Summarising aspects of the report is best.


Jargon should be avoided, or if unavoidable – for example, because another expert has used it – it should be explained in simple language. Giving oral evidence can be thought of as akin to teaching; the aim is to allow the jury – people who are very unlikely to have any specialist knowledge of psychiatry – to understand your opinion.


Juries often find it easier to understand a patient’s mental condition if this is explained in terms of a narrative bringing together the various strands of evidence to which the expert has had access. Te use of analogies and metaphors again can help explain difficult, often abstract concepts.


Te examination in chief is a chance fully to describe your conclusions, and your reasoning; and the questions asked should be taken as an opportunity to give a full account of your opinion and the information and reasoning upon which it is based. Remember, however, that all that is said in this part of proceedings can be challenged in cross examination. Choose your words with great care, and avoid too many ‘ways of saying the same thing’ – since more words imply more room for challenge or exposure of potential – even minor – inconsistencies under cross examination.


Cross examination


Cross examination is the opportunity for the legal representatives of the party, or parties, opposing you to discredit your opinion, or to suggest doubt in your competency in the mind of jury. Leading questions are allowed.


Keep calm, especially if your competence is questioned. It is perhaps useful to remind yourself that any attack is not personal; the legal representative is merely intellectually ‘testing the evidence’.


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