Witness Familiarisation – Innovation in Witness Preparation
Promoted by Loquitur
Australia is finally catching up with other common law jurisdictions in the preparation of witnesses to give evidence under cross examination.
Witness familiarisation is an educational process conducted by an independent third party which helps a witness provide their testimony most effectively under cross examination. It is done in addition to, and complementary to, the normal trial preparation conducted by the legal team who will be relying on the witness.
Until recently, witness familiarisation was a relatively unknown concept in the Australian legal market, despite being routinely used in other common law jurisdictions. In particular, it is well established in England & Wales which has similar ethical guidelines and is a similar legal market.
Witness familiarisation assists a witness by providing theoretical understanding and practical training in the process and delivery of a witness’ evidence. It seeks to help a witness overcome the nerves, stress and pressure of cross examination, and to deal with the nuances and hurdles frequently faced by those providing evidence.
The witness familiarisation process has a particular emphasis on practical methods of witness preparation through lengthy and rigorous mock cross examination sessions. This gives witnesses the opportunity to practise and apply the fundamental skills taught in a simulated, but realistic, environment. It allows a witness to gain a detailed understanding of the court and cross examination process, tactics and strategies used by advocates during cross examination, and methods by which a witness can respond to these to more effectively deliver the witness’ own evidence.
Crucially, it does not replace rigorous proofing and preparation by the witness’ legal team on the witness’ actual evidence. This requires a detailed understanding of the facts and issues in the underlying proceedings, and which is something which an independent witness familiarisation organisation does not seek to (and cannot) provide. Rather, it is an additional service available to practitioners (and witnesses) as part of the trial preparation process to improve the process and delivery of the witness’ evidence.
Because it is conducted though a separate organisation, by independent practising barristers and wholly removed from the underlying facts, issues, and the evidence, it falls safely within the strict ethical boundaries rightly demanded of practitioners.
Witness familiarisation is available to both lay and expert witnesses and can be used for hearings in courts, tribunals, arbitrations, regulatory investigations and Royal Commissions, in all Australian jurisdictions. Sessions are generally available in person, but also remotely by video link as required.
Typically, witness training courses are requested directly by the firm on behalf of the witness, requested directly by witnesses themselves, or at the request of their in-house legal teams. Sessions can also be provided directly to expert witnesses and their employers, agencies and professional bodies.
Witness familiarisation offers a series of benefits to practitioners when preparing their witnesses. Firstly, it allows a time saving in the lead up to trial. Second, it allows a degree of preparation which legal teams are unable to provide to their clients – the rigorous training of witnesses by an independent third party avoids the risk (either real or perceived) of any ethical impropriety or coaching, leaving the legal team free to conduct the necessary preparation on the evidence itself.
Ultimately, however, witness familiarisation is a mechanism to assist Courts to obtain the best evidence possible, while at the same time demystifying the court process and improving public perceptions of profession and the judiciary.
Unsurprisingly, there has been a very quick uptake of this very useful service within Australia.
As Australia’s leading witness familiarisation training organisation, Loquitur is pleased to be instrumental in the introduction of this innovation to the Australian legal market and we are proud to be able to offer this valuable service to the profession for their clients across all Australian legal forums.
To learn more about witness familiarisation, or to see how it could potentially assist your clients, please contact Loquitur.
Loquitur is Australia’s leading witness familiarisation training organisation.
With an extended network of experienced trainers around Australia, Loquitur is uniquely placed to assist solicitors and barristers in their preparation of witnesses to give evidence.