Witness statements – a guide
Witness statements – a guide

When you’re preparing for a court case, be it criminal or civil, you’ll need to gather as much evidence as possible to support your argument. Various different types of evidence can be used, one of which is witness statements. If the case you’re working on involves witnesses who can give their own factual account of what happened, you can present this to the court to give the judge or jury more information that they may need to reach a conclusion.

Gathering witness statements can be a laborious task, and as such many solicitors will look to delegate this work to another party. However, it’s not as simple as just asking anybody to provide a witness statement in any format. There are certain means and methods required not just to get a witness statement that’s admissible, but one that’s actually useful too.

How must a witness statement be formatted?

There are strict regulations on how a witness statement must be formatted and the information that should be included. They must always open with the name and number of the case, to that it’s easy to file them as part of proceedings. Next, they must include the full name and address of the witness. Next is the actual statement. This can be handwritten or typed, usually by the investigator who is conducting the interview with the witness, but paragraphs should be numbered so that they can be referenced.

The statement should always end with a confirmation that it is true – ‘I believe that the facts stated in this [name document being verified] are true. I understand that proceedings for contempt of court may be brought against anyone who makes, or causes to be made, a false statement in a document verified by a statement of truth without an honest belief in its truth.’– and then signed by the witness with the date that the statement was taken.

If a witness statement doesn’t follow these rules, then it will not be admissible in court. That’s why it’s worth hiring an experienced private investigator to carry out the interview and statement-gathering for you. They’ll know the procedures required, so that you end up with a document that you can actually bring to trial.

What makes a good witness statement?

The correct formatting makes a legal statement, but what makes a good witness statement? And how do you make sure the statement you get is good? Again, this is where a private investigator, especially with experience in policing, can really help.

The trick is in asking the right questions to gather as much factual evidence as possible. Using clever techniques to jog memories, or structured questions that ensure the key information is stated and not just implied, are some of the ways that a reliable PI will make sure the statement taken is not just relevant but also has information that will be directly useful to your case.

The other thing that’s important in making a good witness statement is that it’s based in fact. A witness statement should be literally that – a record of what the witness saw. It should not include speculation or opinions, which is where a good private investigator will know how to handle the interview. The only time opinion should be admissible is if the witness is a proven expert in a field related to the case.

What if a witness refuses to co-operate?

If a witness refuses to give a statement, then there’s not a lot a private investigator can do to persuade them otherwise (although they will try, within their means). A PI doesn’t have any legal right to force someone to give a witness statement.

However, what a private investigator can do is verify how valuable a witness would be through a combination of surveillance and those interviewing skills. And if it feels like someone is a key witness, whose evidence should absolutely be heard by the court, then the private investigator will collate all the information you’d need to apply for a witness summons from the court.

With a witness summons, someone is instructed to attend court to give a statement in person. Of course that witness may now be less willing to co-operate, if you’ve had to force them to appear after they turned you down to provide a statement, but they shouldn’t be able to give evidence that would harm your case out of spite as they’d be held in Contempt of Court if they were caught doing so. At the same time, it can’t hurt to make sure you’ve got as much evidence as possible to counter any negative impact a coerced witness might give.

How else can a Private Investigator help with witnesses?

There are multiple ways that a Private Investigator can help solicitors with witness statements beyond the art of interviewing and recording them correctly. Firstly, a private investigator can be useful in identifying witnesses in the first place. PIs have great awareness of surveillance, and would be able to spot regular hangouts that could have been a place where someone witnessed the incident at the heart of your case.

Once you’ve identified who your witness is, a private investigator will also be able to track them down. This is a vital service for anyone working on a case where time has elapsed – if a witness gave an address and has since moved home, or they never made themselves available to give evidence in the first place, a private investigator will work hard to help you find your witnesses so that you can ask them to give statements.     

Whether you’re looking for someone to provide a witness statement, or you need help tracking down someone you already know would be a good witness, then EJM Investigations may be able to help, at a very reasonable price.

Established in 2002, EJM Investigations has almost 20 years of experience in private investigation, including working with solicitors around the country to source evidence for court cases, such as witness statements. If you’re working a case now where you’re struggling to get the evidence you need to ensure your success, consider whether there’s a chance a witness statement could help, and if it could then call 01772 334700 and we’ll be absolutely happy to help.