How to be a good witness
Kasia Thomson, trainee solicitor at Blackadders LLP

Kasia Thomson, trainee solicitor at Blackadders LLP

Since employment tribunal fees were abolished in July 2017 the number of claims brought to tribunal has increased steadily. It is very possible, whatever your role, that you may find yourself being asked to attend a tribunal to give evidence as a witness.

Whether you are an employee or employer, this blog is intended to provide you with helpful tips for appearing as a witness.

  1. Be credible
    The last thing you want is to be considered a witness who lacks credibility. Don’t be vague, evasive or aggressive when you speak. The employment judge places a great deal of importance on how credible and reliable witnesses are. Be clear and succinct with your answers and respond in a calm and collected manner.
  2. Be honest
    Honesty is the best policy. When you ‘take to the stand’ you will be giving evidence on oath. This means you will have sworn to tell the truth (the whole truth and nothing but the truth). Lying on oath can result in criminal action particularly if conflicting evidence later arises and the truth becomes apparent. If you don’t know the answer to a question it is ok to say exactly that. If you can’t remember for certain what your actions were, don’t second guess.
  3. Be reflective, open and engaging
    Some of the best witnesses demonstrate openness in their answers. If you do not understand a question, politely ask for it to be repeated. Some of the poorest witnesses refuse to acknowledge or accept points that are reasonable for fear of agreeing they could have acted differently. Remember, you are there to assist the tribunal and the judge as much as possible.
  4. Be aware of your body language and demeanour
    This desire for open and transparent answers is not limited to verbal actions but physical too. Your body language, eye contact and facial expression are incredibly important. Be sure to conduct yourself in a professional manner at all times in the tribunal room, even when the opposite parties are on the stand.
  5. Listen to the question. Pause. Then answer the question- and only the question.
    There will undoubtedly be silences at points during the hearing. Be patient and do not feel the need to fill them. If anything, make peace with the silence. Having watched a few tribunals myself, the best advice for witnesses is to watch the judge’s pen as an indicator of the speed at which to talk. It is human nature to want to fill an awkward silence. Try to resist this. Respond with strong, succinct answers that are to the point. If you find yourself expanding and explaining something, it is likely you are not answering the question.

For more information, listen to Employment Lawyer in Your Pocket Podcast Series 2 Episode 1 How to be a Good Witness? or contact the Blackadders employment team.