For many Clients, giving evidence at an Employment Tribunal Hearing is usually the first time they have been in a Courtroom. Naturally, this can be quite a daunting and stressful experience, particularly when an individual or corporate finances and reputation are at stake.
Whilst we cannot coach Client’s on what to say we can explain the process and how to give the best impression of yourself during evidence. The purpose of this guide is to help you prepare for being a witness so that when you give evidence it does not feel like a step into the unknown.
This section is about the layout of the Tribunal and how the Tribunal process works.
Firstly, most Tribunal buildings require you to go through a search and metal detector. You will not be allowed to bring aerosols, sharp objects or any other hazardous objects into the Court. If you have some on you, they can be left with security and picked up when you leave. Once you arrive you will need to get to the appropriate waiting room. There will usually be a room for both parties to wait in to avoid any awkwardness and allow private discussion with Representatives.
A Clerk will then come into the room and ask for the party’s names and what Oath they will be swearing – Bible, Quran, affirm etc. – the choice is yours depending on your religious beliefs. Like any important occasion, it is crucial that you are early. Being late will immediately give off the wrong impression to the Judge and Tribunal staff – who are keen to save the Tribunal’s time, money and resources. It will also cause you to feel flustered or stressed which is the exact opposite of how witnesses should be feeling prior to giving evidence.
2 © PJH Law Tribunal Hearings usually start at 10 am. Arriving at 9 am will allow you time to get through security, get to the appropriate room and discuss any questions with your Representative. It will also afford the time to re-read your statement and refresh your memory of some of the key documents in the bundle.
Tribunal Hearings are more informal in comparison to other Court environments. The layout of a typical Employment Tribunal is usually similar to the diagram below.
In some Tribunals, the witness stand will be on the left, right or even centre of the room and in some cases, the room may also be used for Crown proceedings so there will be a vacant jury bench. The Employment Judge will nearly always be sat at a table that is level with the parties.
They will not be towering over you like in stereotypical TV Dramas! You can choose to sit either next to your Representative or on the bench behind. If you are the lead witness, then it is recommended that you sit at the front so you can discuss any issues that may arise with your Representative.
There is a public gallery at the back of all hearings but in most Tribunal Hearings this will only be used by the friends, colleagues, and family of the parties involved in the case.
Judge, Panel and Legal Representatives
The Judge will enter the room from a separate door to you at the back of the room. As stated above, the Judge will most likely be sat on the same level as the two parties. Unlike other Courts, the Judge will not be wearing a wig and gown,
Unlike other Courts, the Judge will not be wearing a wig and gown, instead, they will be wearing formal business wear. If it is a discrimination claim there will be two-panel members to assist the Judge.
They will be in suits or smart clothing as well. Like the Judge, Representatives will be in smart clothing and not wigs and gowns. If you have more than one Representative – such as a Barrister and a Solicitor – then the Solicitor will sit with the Barrister with the other witnesses sat behind.
Throughout the hearing, there may be several instances where you are waiting around for a prolonged period. For example, on the first day, the Judge may call everyone in and then excuse them so the Judge can read all the relevant documents and witness statements.
During this time, you can either wait in your designated room or, time to permit, leave the Tribunal and grab something to eat and drink. If you do leave the Tribunal be sure to leave enough time to get back to the Tribunal and through security.
To ensure witnesses give the best impression of themselves there are a few basic rules.
Witness Statement and Bundle
In many cases, the events in question date back several months, or even years. Therefore, you will be forgiven for not having all the facts at the front of your mind. A well-drafted witness statement should not only refresh your memory of the events but may also provide many of the answers to the questions being asked of you.
You must ensure that any relevant documentary evidence is disclosed.
Make sure you re-read your witness statement and key pieces of evidence before the Hearing so it is fresh in your memory. This will be very helpful throughout the Hearing
Like a job interview, first impressions are important. Looking and dressing smartly will give a good first impression to the Employment Judge. A suit or smart clothes and tidy hair will help portray you as the honest, reliable person that you are. On the other hand, track suits, jogging bottoms and other inappropriate clothing will not give a good first impression so be sure to dress for the occasion. Look the part, be the part!
A suit or smart clothes and tidy hair will help portray you as the honest, reliable person that you are. On the other hand, track suits, jogging bottoms and other inappropriate clothing will not give a good first impression so be sure to dress for the occasion. Look the part, be the part!
It is crucial that you are polite to all staff in the Court. Security guards, receptionists, and Clerks are all colleagues of the Judge. If you are rude to the Clerk, then the Judge will more than likely hear about it before even the Hearing begins. Good manners cost nothing.
When speaking to the Judge, or panel members, address them as Sir or Ma’am. Calling them anything else is deemed impolite and may annoy the Judge. When speaking to the other side’s Representative be polite and civil. You may not agree with what they are saying but do not be rude.
Whilst giving evidence it is important to speak both clearly and slowly. The use of slang words is also discouraged. The Judge will be taking notes of everything that is said and these may be inaccurate if you do not express yourself clearly. A good rule to follow is to watch the Judge’s pen if they are furiously scribbling, pause to let them catch up and take accurate notes.
Finally, when not giving evidence, if the other side’s witnesses say something that is upsetting or untrue do not heckle them. This will not only annoy the Judge but may result in your case being dismissed for unreasonable conduct. This could result in a costs award against you.
You will most likely be nervous when giving evidence but try not to let it show. Having neutral, confident and open body language will portray you as the honest person you are. 5 © PJH Law Fidgeting and twitching may be a sign of nervousness but it is also a sign of dishonesty. Sitting up straight with your hands on your lap is a guaranteed way to avoid negative body language. When answering questions, turn and face the Judge so they can see your face. When listening to a question turn and face the person asking it. Making eye contact is another great way to show that you are not lying and are confident in your answers. People who are confident immediately appear more honest and trustworthy. You have not lied, are not going to lie and therefore have nothing to be unconfident about so let that show in your answers.
Some questions may ask you about deeply personal or sensitive subjects. For example, if you are called a liar that is obviously very offensive and it is okay to show a moderate degree of emotion, however, do not become aggressive.
Likewise, you may be asked about something that is upsetting – it is okay to cry, Judges are human and understand that many people will get upset. However, do not cry at the drop of a hat. Crying about an injury sustained to a colleague or a battle with mental health is fine – crying when being asked about what you had for lunch isn’t!
Whilst giving evidence there may be a break for several reasons. Whether it is a toilet break, lunchtime or the end of the day a witness giving evidence remains under Oath. It is vital that you do not discuss your evidence, or the case in general, with anyone outside the Tribunal whilst under Oath. This includes your Representative and other witnesses
Ignoring this warning could result in your case being dismissed and costs being awarded against you. Furthermore, it is also imperative that all parties do not post about the case on social media until the conclusion of the Tribunal for the same reasons.